By Jane Horwitz,
ICE AGE: CONTINENTAL DRIFT. Continuing the “Ice Age” tradition of wreaking havoc with science, this fourth episode — fine for kids 7 and older — implies that the continents we have today broke apart from a single large land mass over a few days. The prehistoric squirrel Scrat, still chasing after his acorn, seems to cause the breakup after trying to crack open the nut. It’s an amusing gimmick, though what follows in this animated 3-D confection is harrowing enough at times to push the PG envelope. Our protagonists, Manny the Woolly Mammoth, his mate, Ellie, their teenage daughter, Peaches, the saber-toothed tiger Diego and the sloth Sid are doing okay, pre-crackup. But when the land breaks up, Manny, Sid and Diego are separated from Ellie and Peaches. A huge storm carries the guys out to sea on an ice floe. They encounter an iceberg/pirate ship and the bloodthirsty orangutan Captain Gutt and his saber-toothed enforcer.
THE BOTTOM LINE: For children younger than 7, there are a lot of potentially disturbing images, especially in 3-D: the land and icebergs breaking apart; the storm and capsizing waves; and sea sirens who turn into monsters. The violence and threats by Captain Gutt and crew seem intense for a PG, as are the fights and chases. The pirates use sharp weapons made from shells. There are mild curses, such as “holy crab!” and “screw-up.” Mild sexual tension is implied between the teen mammoths and Diego and Shira. Sid eats a bad berry and is paralyzed briefly. A funny short before the movie, “The Simpsons: The Longest Daycare” (PG), features a scowling bully.
Katy Perry: Part of Me. Tween and teen girls are the most likely audience for this neon-colored, 3-D “documentary.” The film includes apparently candid moments in the life of Katy Perry during her 2011 world tour. She had invited the filmmakers along on the tour but couldn’t have known that her unlikely long-distance marriage to British comic Russell Brand would disintegrate. We get glimpses of Brand and see Perry weeping. She seems nice, and we see home movies of young Katy singing gospel and learn about her childhood with Pentecostal evangelist parents.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Perry and her entourage are never shown behaving badly or imbibing. There is brief toilet humor.
Brave. The second half of “Brave” becomes violent and intense enough that parents of children younger than 10 must use caution. That noted, the animated film looks gorgeous and tells a gripping yarn about a female teen hero. The free-spirited Merida is a handful. Unfortunately, she also is a princess. King Fergus and Queen Elinor believe it’s time for Merida to choose a husband. Merida meets an old witch who gives the girl a cake containing a potion to give the queen, which turns Merida’s mother into a bear. Merida tries to undo the spell, and the king nearly kills his own wife.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Animal instincts lead the transformed queen to growl and nearly attack her daughter. The potential for disaster and the violence of the chases and sword, dagger and fistfights in the film’s climax make it problematic for kids younger than 10. The portrayal of some of Merida’s suitors as doofuses is so exaggerated that it almost implies they are brain-damaged, which goes too far.
The Amazing Spider-Man. Most teens will get thrills, though some middle-schoolers may find the mayhem a little daunting. Peter is a science-loving high school student who has lived with his Uncle Ben and Aunt May since his parents dropped him at their home and disappeared. A genetically modified spider bites Peter, and he develops super-strength. When his beloved uncle is killed by a robber, Peter starts going after bad guys (and the Lizard) incognito and invents the Spider-Man persona.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The rubbery Lizard isn’t particularly horrible, even in 3-D. The climactic high-flying battles are more harrowing. There are head-banging fights and harsh bullying. Uncle Ben’s death is upsetting. The script features rare strong language and mild sexual innuendo. A few scenes with spiders and lizards will not thrill phobics.
Beasts of the Southern Wild. This indie film spins a modern fairy tale. Perhaps too upsetting a saga for middle-schoolers, it could transport high-school-age cinema buffs. Hushpuppy lives with her ailing father, Wink, in a remote and fictional part of the bayou known as the Bathtub. They and their cohorts ride out a storm that ruins the Bathtub. They’re evacuated by force to a shelter, where Wink learns his health is failing fast. They escape and go back home.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Hushpuppy’s dad and his friends drink like fish and live in squalor but independently. Hushpuppy and her dad argue, and he screams at and threatens her when he’s drunk. The storm and the flooding are quite harrowing to watch, as are imaginary buffalo-like beasts, all threatening Hushpuppy.
Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Witness Protection. The focus on grown-up problems and the general lameness of the writing in Tyler Perry’s latest Madea comedy will send most teens to sleep or the lobby. Brian, a federal prosecutor, has orders to go after a Wall Street firm that ran a huge Ponzi scheme. The firm’s clueless CFO, George, faced with prison, tries to cooperate. Because the mob is involved, Brian puts George and his family into witness protection — in the home of Brian’s Aunt Madea and her dirty-minded brother, Uncle Joe.
The bottom line: Perry’s script includes toilet humor, bawdy sexual innuendo and comic drug references.
Horwitz is a freelance writer.