We get what is likely to be the biggest movie of all time this week in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and Christy is here to tell us if your youngest young’uns will find it thrilling or frightening. Also on the docket are the latest Alvin and the Chipmunks movie, and on DVD, a handful of choices probably best suited for tweens and up. Read on for details.
NEW IN THEATERS
Rating: PG-13, for sci-fi action violence.
Your kids are probably busting at the seams at the very prospect of a new Star Wars movie – and so are you. And it’s great, so you can all breathe easily. If they know anything about the previous films, they have an idea of some of the themes and images that await them: the eternal battle between the Dark Side and Light Side of the Force, with all the epic dog fights and light-saber duels that entails. Bad-guy Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is a formidable figure, but if your kids are anything like my 6-year-old son, they not only know the “Star Wars” villains but also prefer them. We see actual Stormtrooper blood this time, which is new (but not much). There’s a massive, creepy figure overseeing spiritual control of all the bad guys here, who are now known as the First Order – that’s the only thing that even vaguely disturbed my son. And … well, that’s probably all I should say. I think this is fine for kids ages 5 or 6 and up, especially if they’re already steeped in Star Wars lore. You should especially bring your girls: Daisy Ridley’s Rey is a heroine for the ages, and an excellent role model of smarts and strength.
Rating: PG, for some mild rude humor and language.
It might not have seemed possible, but yes, there IS another Chipmunks movie for your kids to enjoy and for you to tolerate. This time, Alvin, Simon and Theodore suspect that Dave (Jason Lee) will propose to his girlfriend (Kimberly Williams-Paisley) while visiting Miami with her and abandon them for good. So they team up with her surly son (Josh Green) to travel across the country and stop Dave from popping the question. Madcap computer-generated hilarity and squeaky musical numbers ensue. (Although I do have to admit, the effects are pretty darn seamless). This movie is harmless. A lot of the jokes are intended for the grown-ups in the audience and will go over kids’ heads. Tony Hale co-stars as an air marshal who’s insistent on nabbing the chipmunks after they unleash all the animals from an airplane’s cargo hold, but he’s pretty cartoonish as a villain. And The Road Chip features the most chaste depiction of New Orleans ever committed to film, as the boys perform Uptown Funk with a brass band in the French Quarter. The entire song. Fine for all ages.
NEW ON DVD
Rating: PG-13, for sci-fi action violence and language.
Ugly, shoddy, poorly written and totally lacking in characterization or suspense, this latest incarnation of the Marvel Comic Fantastic Four is a case study in soulless summer spectacle run amok. Even my 6-year-old son, who is obsessed with all things Marvel, didn’t like it. It basically covers the same ground as the 2005 Fantastic Four movie, showing us how Reed Richards (Miles Teller) and his team — Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan), Sue Storm (Kate Mara) and Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell) — acquired their superpowers. These never feel like real human beings, and whatever obstacles they encounter in the form of the cartoonish Dr. Doom (Toby Kebbell) get wrapped up way too quickly. This is also a surprisingly gory movie; once Doom comes into power, we see him embark on a rampant killing spree with a fair amount of blood on screen, making this a movie firmly planted on the more mature end of the PG-13 spectrum. It’s clobberin’ time, indeed — on the audience.
Rating: PG-13, for extended sequences of violence and action, some thematic elements, substance use and language.
The second movie in the Maze Runner series is pretty standard post-apocalyptic, YA-novel fare; in theory, you know what you’re getting into here. The plucky hero of the first film (Dylan O’Brien) and his friends have escaped the maze, but now they find themselves in even more varied kinds of danger in the outside world. This includes: bad guys holding kids captive, then chasing after and shooting at them; teens being used for creepy medical experiments; squalor in a decimated city; ravenous, fast-moving zombies in an abandoned shopping mall; and large-scale shootouts. There’s also a long party scene in which revelers drink something that looks like absinthe and makes them hallucinate. Plus, there’s just the general, all-consuming oppression of life in a dystopian future – but that exists in all these movies, so the target audience should be used to it by now. OK for tweens and older.
Rating: PG-13, for sequences of action and violence, and brief partial nudity.
Tom Cruise’s fifth Mission: Impossible movie was also one of the best action movies of the summer. This time, Cruise’s super spy, Ethan Hunt, is investigating a shadowy organization called the Syndicate – but no one else believes the Syndicate actually exists, so the United States government shuts down him and his agency. Naturally, Hunt gets his team back together to take down the Syndicate, which leads to lots of over-the-top action sequences. Older kids will probably like that the movie speeds along with hardly a breath between the chases and fights. But the story gets complicated and can be a bit hard to follow (although everything moves so fast, it doesn’t really matter). As expected, you’ll see a fair amount of gunfights here, with nameless henchmen serving as cannon fodder, and early on there’s a murder that’s pretty intense without being very gruesome. The “brief partial nudity” mentioned in the ratings comes from a scene where co-star Rebecca Ferguson is briefly topless, but the camera only catches her from behind. And this being a Tom Cruise movie, you get the requisite helmet-free motorcycle chase. It should be fine for older kids and more mature pre-teens.
Rating: PG-13, for thematic elements involving disturbing images and threats.
Malala Yousafzai — the Pakistani teen who was shot in the head by the Taliban for advocating girls’ education and went on to become the youngest-ever Nobel Peace Prize Laureate – is the subject of this documentary. It’s certainly an inspiring story, one’s that’s extremely worthwhile for young people to learn – especially young women, on whose behalf she’s worked tirelessly worldwide. But director Davis Guggenheim’s film is frustratingly superficial in terms of how she truly feels about being attacked at age 15 and how she feels now about becoming an international symbol of hope. Guggenheim does include photos of the bloody crime scene, though: the school bus on which Yousafzai was riding home alongside two of her girlfriends. We also see the aftermath of attacks on schools and we hear broadcasts of the Taliban’s rhetoric. Overall, though, this is suitable for tweens and older.