Rating: PG-13, for intense violence and action throughout, some sensuality, thematic elements and brief language.
The sequel to last year’s Divergent might be even more violent and intense than its predecessor. It’s also oppressively dour. But because the film carries a PG-13 rating — to make it accessible to the tweens and young teens who also were the target audience for the YA novel source material — there’s minimal bloodshed accompanying the massive gunfire. This time, the rebellious Tris (Shailene Woodley) and her boyfriend, Four (Theo James), are hiding out with some other folks, trying to figure out how best to take down the totalitarian dictator Jeanine (Kate Winslet). But Jeanine is after Tris, too, to put her through a series of simulations which will open a magical box that contains an important message, or something. This sometimes means Tris must endure harrowing imagery and fight dangerous battles. In real life, she and Four also have sex, but we don’t really see anything; the act is implied through kissing and naked backs. If your kids have seen the first film, they’re in for a lot of the same here.
The playful penguins who stole every scene in the Madagascar series have gotten a movie of their own. Part origin story and part spin-off, it explains how Skipper, Kowalski, Rico and Private became globetrotting super spies and it follows them on an all-new adventure. John Malkovich lends his rich voice to the shape-shifting bad guy they’re after: an angry octopus who’s pretending to be a mad scientist. He kidnaps penguins from zoos and aquariums around the world with plans to inject them with a serum that will turn them into hideous versions of themselves. He hopes they’ll seem less appealing to the masses, but they actually become more silly than frightening. The penguins end up in several dangerous situations but they always find a way to escape. There’s a lot of silly spanking among the animals as well as some fart jokes and flatulence puns, but it’s the kind of harmless, puerile humor that routinely cracks kids up. Nothing here is shocking or inappropriate. This is totally suitable for all ages, although a lot of the pop-culture gags are just for us grown-ups.
Rating: PG, for some mild language and rude humor.
This movie is terrible. But if it’s the only family-friendly film available for rental… well, it’s still terrible. It’s a modern-day version of the enduring stage musical, which has been moved from the Great Depression to present day Manhattan. This time, the plucky orphan Annie (Quvenzhane Wallis) moves in with a billionaire cell-phone mogul (Jamie Foxx) and melts his heart… in song! The celebration of materialism is seriously amped up here, which is sort of depressing. Annie enjoys a helicopter ride around New York City and hands out free phones to her foster-kid friends. Cameron Diaz is rather shrill and inept as Miss Hannigan but she’s not as intimidating as she’s been in previous versions; she’s more pathetic than anything else. And Annie briefly finds herself in danger when she goes off with a couple who pretend to be her birth parents, but she’s not hurt in any way. Suitable for all ages.
Rating: PG, for violence including battle sequences and intense images.
Mature tweens and older will probably be fine watching this massive biblical epic from director Ridley Scott, which makes his Oscar-winning Gladiator look like a tiny indie by comparison. With the use of massive visual effects, Scott tells the Old Testament story of Moses leading hundreds of thousands of Hebrew slaves out of Egypt to freedom. That means plagues — lots and lots of plagues — from frogs to locusts to boils. (The boils are especially gross.) And because everything has gotten so chaotic and overpopulated under the reign of the inept Ramses (Joel Edgerton), slaves are thrown into enormous fires to thin out the city. There are also several elaborate battle scenes, perilous chariot chases and a pummeling wall of water once Moses (Christian Bale) has finished parting the Red Sea. And be warned: besides the violence and the subject matter, the film runs nearly two and a half hours, which might be quite a slog for younger viewers.