This week brings a retelling of a Hollywood classic that might be a little too violent for children and a lush stop-motion animated film with a bit of creepy imagery that might frighten the youngest viewers. Here’s what you should know before you hit the theater.
NEW IN THEATERS
Rating: PG-13, for sequences of violence and disturbing images.
This high-tech telling of this classic, biblical-era tale is about half as long as the 1959 Charlton Heston version, but it’s crammed with violent action sequences. Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Huston), a prince of Judea, is wrongly imprisoned and sentenced to slavery when his adopted brother, Messala (Toby Kebbell), a Roman officer on the rise, accuses him of treason. Ben-Hur must find a way back to rescue his mother and sister, get revenge and restore his name. Along the way, he spends years being whipped as a galley slave and there’s a ton of graphic swordplay. Men all around him drown, get pierced with arrows, and are set on fire. Of course, Ben-Hur must compete against Messala in a climactic chariot race in which riders get tossed in the air and trampled by horses. And he keeps running into Jesus Christ (Rodrigo Santoro), including during the crucifixion, which (as you can imagine), is traumatic and bloody. But Ben-Hur also is worthwhile as a story of redemption, spirituality and forgiveness. This is probably fine for viewers around 12 or 13 and older.
Rating: PG, for thematic elements, scary images, action and peril.
The latest exquisitely twisted offering from the Laika animation house is a jaw-droppingly beautiful hero’s journey. Young Kubo (voiced by Art Parkinson) is a boy with the magical ability to bring his vibrant origami creatures to life through music. But he also must face a great deal of darkness, including functioning as the parent to his depressed mother, a witch warrior. With the help of a monkey named Monkey (Charlize Theron) and a beetle named Beetle (Matthew McConaughey), he goes on a quest to find three crucial pieces of armor that belonged to his late father, a valiant samurai. As was the case with Laika’s previous films, including Coraline and The Boxtrolls, Kubo features some inspired and dazzling visuals – it was created through painstaking stop-motion animation — but it also has some ideas and images that are downright unsettling. Kubo is in constant danger from the first second we see him. When he was a baby, his grandfather plucked out his left eye in a vengeful rage, requiring the boy to wear an eye patch. Among the challenges Kubo must face is a sea full of giant, hypnotic eyeballs. And Kubo’s evil twin aunts (both voiced by Rooney Mara), who’ve come to collect his other eye, might be the most frightening of all. Dressed in black with Japanese Noh masks, they hover above the ground calling his name in eerie tones. (This is the one sight that truly scared my son, who’s almost 7; it freaked me out, too.) But there’s also a great deal of wonder and magic here. The details and colors are gorgeous, the action scenes are lively and there’s some amusing interplay between Monkey and Beetle. And Kubo’s bravery and resourcefulness should appeal to young viewers. I’d say kids around age 7 or 8 and older are OK here.
NEW ON DVD
Rating: PG, for rude humor and action.
The addicting app about colorful birds flinging themselves at pigs is now a feature-length, animated film that’s fine for all ages. It’s an origin story explaining who the birds are and why they’re so angry. Initially, the aptly named Red (voiced by Jason Sudeikis) is the only angry one on an island full of happy birds. But when a megalomaniacal pig (Bill Hader) and his minions arrive by boat — supposedly with friendly intentions but actually with a devious plot to steal their eggs — the rest of the birds get angry, too. There are some jokes to appeal to the grown-ups in the audience — at one point, Red laments: “Pluck my life!” — but they’ll probably go over kids’ heads. Kids probably won’t grasp the grotesque fact that the pigs are trying to turn birds’ babies into omelets. There’s also a lot of action and destruction here as the birds exact their revenge on the pilfering pigs, but it’s pretty silly and cartoonish. I brought my son — an Angry Birds expert — to the screening, and he liked the movie way better than I did.
Rating: PG, for some thematic elements.
Viewers around 8 or 9 and older are fine watching this sequel to the 2014 faith-based hit God’s Not Dead. This time, a history teacher with the subtle name of Grace (Melissa Joan Hart) finds herself persecuted when she answers a student’s question about Jesus in a public high school classroom. Parents complain, she refuses to apologize, and the whole conflict erupts in a court of law. Along the way, various supporting characters find their faith tested and — spoiler! — ultimately validated. This is a PG-rated Christian movie, so nothing even remotely inappropriate happens. But some of the discussions and courtroom arguments can get pretty intense, which might be too much for younger viewers to comprehend. And the running time of two solid hours also might make this a squirmy sit for littler kids.