Parental Guidance

Parental Guidance: The Hobbit, Saving Mr. Banks and Classic Fantasy Films

We give you what you need to know about the family-friendliness of this week's new releases.

by | December 13, 2013 | Comments

In Theaters This Week:

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug


Rating: PG-13, for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images.

The second film in Peter Jackson’s trilogy treatment of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit is ridiculously violent. Yes, it’s all computer-generated fantasy spectacle, but what a spectacle it is – full of piercing arrows, ominous shadows, stabbings and beheadings, with some of those severed heads flying right at the camera. If the giant talking spiders don’t get you, the fierce (and fiercely ugly) orcs will. General peril abounds as Bilbo Baggins and his dwarf pals try and make their way to the Lonely Mountain – and then once they get there, they must contend with the ferocious and fire-breathing dragon Smaug, voiced menacingly by Benedict Cumberbatch. Given the graphic nature of this movie and the extended running time, this really is just for the most mature tweens and up.

Saving Mr. Banks


Rating: PG-13, for thematic elements including some unsettling images.

I’m actually not quite sure why this movie gets a PG-13 rating – maybe because it includes some flashbacks to a childhood with a father whose alcoholism destroyed him. For the most part, Saving Mr. Banks is a cheery (and not entirely accurate) retelling of how folksy Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) persuaded uptight Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) to let his studio make a film based on her cherished children’s book. It’s a shamelessly sentimental infomercial by Disney, for Disney, about Disney, full of upbeat songs and cathartic tears. Fine for most kids.

Tyler Perry’s A Madea Christmas


Rating: PG-13, for sexual references, crude humor and language.

This movie is amazingly terrible — incoherent and sloppily constructed in a way that?s surreal — so if you love your children, you probably shouldn’t take them to see it. But! If you’re at the multiplex trying to find something the whole family can enjoy after a long day of holiday shopping ? well, this still probably isn’t the best choice. Multimedia multi-hyphenate Tyler Perry returns to the sassy drag of his Madea character, a crass and wacky old lady with no internal censor. Most of the stuff she babbles about will go over kids’ heads – references to lingerie, drugs and stripping, for starters. Larry the Cable Guy shows up and magnifies the raunch factor with some sexual innuendos – which, again, probably won’t register with young viewers. There’s also a massively contrived car crash and explosion that might have been vaguely suspenseful in the hands of someone, you know, capable.

New On DVD:

Despicable Me 2


Rating: PG, for rude humor and mild action.

Minions, minions and more minions make this sequel to the 2010 international hit such a delight. There isn’t a single thing in this movie that would make it inappropriate or objectionable in any way. When a powerful potion turns some of the babbling, bright yellow creatures into crazed, purple-monster versions of themselves, they’re a little more manic but never truly frightening. This remains my 4-year-old son’s favorite among the many animated films he saw this year.

Classic Fantasy Films:

Princess Mononoke

This gorgeous and wondrous animated fantasy from Japanese master Hayao Miyazaki features a true warrior princess: a fierce young woman named San (voiced by Claire Danes in the English-language version) who can communicate with the spirits. She finds herself in the center of a war between animals, humans (whom she hates) and demons in a mystical 14th century setting. Too intense and complex for the littlest kids but a thrill for everyone else.

Time Bandits

From the endlessly creative mind of Monty Python animator Terry Gilliam comes this comic adventure about a boy who time travels with a group of dwarves. Along the way, he runs into historical figures including Robin Hood and Napoleon. It’s got some darkness to its tone, which may disturb very little kids. But with its elaborately detailed production design, it’s always a wonder to watch.

The Princess Bride

Long before films like Shrek took familiar fairy-tale conventions and turned them on their head, there was Rob Reiner’s cleverly self-referential comedy. A favorite from my own youth, The Princess Bride remains endlessly quotable with its colorful characters and swashbuckling scenarios. It’s charming and subversive in equal measure but, at its core, has an irresistibly sweet heart.

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