Family Filmgoer reviews ‘Parental Guidance,’ ‘Django Unchained’ and ‘Les Miserables’

December 28, 2012
7 and older

Monsters, Inc. 3D (G). First released in 2001, this film is still funny, but in 3-D, it’s more for children 7 and older. The film takes the idea of kids’ nighttime fears about monsters and runs with it. The monsters are real creatures with serpent hair or extra eyeballs. They can be lizardlike or giants with green and purple fur. They live in Monstropolis and work at Monsters, Inc., walking through magical doors and into little kids’ closets to scare them. The monsters are taught to be scared of kids, too. So when a toddler winds up on the factory side of her closet door, due to the evil tricks of a chameleon-like monster, all the monsters freak out. Sulley and Mike risk their lives to protect her.

An Oscar-winning animated Pixar short, “For the Birds,” precedes it and is, if you’ll pardon, a hoot. A flock of small birds settles onto a telephone wire and tries to keep a big, gangly bird from joining them. He gets great comic revenge.

THE BOTTOM LINE: The scary bits are defused by laughter in “Monsters, Inc.” But some of the monsters and the chase scenes will seem more intense to kids younger than 7. It’s just different when it looks like a monster is in the room with you.

8 and older

Parental Guidance (PG). “Parental Guidance” is perfectly okay for kids 8 and older. In this weak new comedy, Billy Crystal’s rat-a-tat shtick will more likely appeal to older adults and leave kids wondering what the fuss is about. Artie and wife Diane fly to Atlanta at the request of their daughter Alice to babysit her and husband Phil’s three kids for a week. Diane is determined she and Artie will bond with the grandkids this time. Both grandparents quickly see that Alice’s idea of parenting is very different from theirs.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Too many of the gags involve verbal, visual and aural toilet humor. The script also contains mild sexual innuendo and subtle homophobic humor. Grown-ups tell anecdotes about getting drunk. Crystal’s character gets slammed in the crotch with a baseball bat and then projectile vomits onto the child perpetrator. Grandson Turner gets bullied at school and comes home with a black eye.

PG-13

Les Miserables. The tragedy, suffering and grand emotions in this operatic tale make it perhaps too much movie for some middle-schoolers and definitely for preteens. The fact that even the dialogue is sung may also put them off. Many other teens, though, will be swept up by the epic grandiosity. Filled with themes about forgiveness and love, “Les Misérables” recounts how Jean Valjean, released from a chain gang after serving almost 20 years for petty thievery, lets go of his bitterness and starts a new life, thereby breaking his parole. When his ward, Cosette, falls in love with Marius, Valjean vows he’ll protect Marius for her. All the while, prison guard turned policeman Javert is on Valjean’s trail.

THE BOTTOM LINE: The strongest element that earns the PG-13 rating is the sense of squalor and suffering. The violent clashes between students and the army muskets are not graphic but have a fierceness. Prostitutes in low-cut rags troll the streets in one chapter, singing crass, suggestive lyrics. A key character jumps off a bridge and we see his body hit.

R

Django Unchained. Absolutely not for anyone younger than 17, this bloody and profane new film by Quentin Tarantino nevertheless has much to say. This is a tale about an unlikely duo who wage their own mini war against slavery in 1850s America. A German-born bounty hunter named King Schultz buys the freedom of the slave Django because Django can identify three wanted men Schultz is after. Schultz always kills the men he’s hunting, hauls their bodies to the nearest U.S. marshal, then collects his bounty. Django tells Schultz that his beloved wife, Broomhilda, was sold to punish him. Schultz offers to help Django find her, as long as Django teams with him to help kill his list of wanted men.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Several scenes show slaves being whipped, and one shows a man set upon by dogs. Male slaves are forced to fight each other to the death. The ultra-violence includes explosive, deafening gun battles, great amounts of spattered blood and bodies ripped open by bullets. There is frequent use of the N-word and other racial slurs. A horse is killed in a gunfight. There are strong intimations of rape, and we briefly see a female character naked.

Promised Land. Other than occasional strong language, it is perfectly okay for high-schoolers 15 and older. However the movie is just too fact-filled and serious to entertain teens over the holidays, unless they happen to be deeply committed environmentalists. Steve Butler is a rising executive with a large natural gas drilling company. He and co-worker Sue Thomason arrive in a rural community to persuade farmers and other landowners to sell them drilling rights. He and Sue are taken aback when they encounter resistance in the form of a genial science teacher and a slick out-of-town environmentalist.

The bottom line: The script includes fairly frequent strong profanity. A photo of a contaminated farm with dead cows in a pasture appears several times.

Horwitz is a freelance writer.

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