THE BOTTOM LINE: Some of the nonstop action sequences involve gunplay, and a flashback shows old battleships firing cannons and burning. Captain Haddock is an alcoholic.
We Bought A Zoo (PG). Certainly the most family-friendly and mildest holiday movie of the season, “We Bought a Zoo” offers kids 10 and older and their parents a heartwarming story, good acting and cool critters. The movie follows single dad Benjamin, a journalist grieving over his late wife. He decides to quit his job and move the family to a house in the country — even after he learns that a financially struggling private zoo comes with it. His sad adolescent son, Dylan, hates the idea, but daughter Rosie loves it.
The bottom line: The script includes rare barnyard profanity and mild sexual innuendo. A sick animal is put down. This happens off-screen. Dylan draws disturbing images that reflect his grief and alienation. Adult characters drink.
War Horse. This heart-rending World War I-era tale gets the full Steven Spielberg treatment, which often pushes this PG-13 film into R territory. High-schoolers who can handle the harrowing depiction of the Great War could be transported by the stunning epic. Some teens won’t have the patience for it, but the rewards are high if they do. Albert, a poor English farm boy, trains a big-hearted horse called Joey. When World War I breaks out, Albert’s dad sells Joey to the army. The film follows Joey’s experiences on the battlefield. His story starts to parallel Albert’s, after the boy is old enough to enlist. Eventually, the young man and his horse are slogging separately toward each other through the battlefields of France.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The battlefield scenes in “War Horse” are extremely intense and push the PG-13 envelope hard with shattering artillery fire, charges on horseback, trench warfare, images of men and horses dead, the deathly silence of a poison gas attack, Joey trapped and struggling in barbed wire. This makes the film problematic for many middle-schoolers.
The Artist. A silent, black-and-white film that celebrates Hollywood in its early days, “The Artist” will appeal to a special kind of teen. Said teen must love film, understand that it’s an art form and must be intrigued by film history. Set in the late 1920s as talking pictures are about to revolutionize the industry, it follows the downfall of George Valentin, a star of silent films who can’t make the jump into talkies. His marriage is failing, and a young starlet, Peppy Miller, worships and tries to help him.
The bottom line: Characters drink, smoke, use rare mild profanity and a rude gesture. Peppy has no compunction about trying to win the heart of a married man. At one point a fire threatens George’s life. He also has a scary nightmare and suicidal tendencies.
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. This stunning crime thriller contains graphic sexual violence and is not for anyone younger than 17 — and preferably no one younger than 20. A disgraced but honest investigative journalist, Mikael Blomkvist, is hired by a reclusive millionaire on a remote island to solve the mysterious disappearance and presumed murder of his niece, some 40 years ago. To help in his research, Blomkvist is steered toward a highly skilled, very damaged young computer hacker, Lisbeth Salander. The unlikely duo uncover a nasty series of crimes and form their own bond.
THE BOTTOM LINE: There are two scenes of sexual assault and exploitation against Lisbeth Salander by a man who is supposed to be her state-appointed counselor. The plot focuses on a serial killer. There are a couple of explicit consensual sexual situations with nudity. Violence involves gunplay, chases and crashes, and an explosion. Blomkvist has an affair with a married woman.
Young Adult. High-schoolers 16 and older may still be in the middle of the social milieu that spawned Mavis Gary, the disturbing lead character in “Young Adult.” Since it is a relatively mild R, mature teens 16 and older may be engaged by this squirm-inducing comedy, because it’s about a girl who can’t let go of her mean-girl high-school persona. Mavis clearly struggles with depression, alcoholism and truly bad judgment. A hack writer of teen fiction, she shows up in the small town where she grew up aiming to run away with her high-school boyfriend. Never mind that he’s happily married with a new baby. Mavis confesses her plan to Matt, a pudgy guy who she barely noticed in school. He’s disabled because of a high-school beating by bullies. Matt and Mavis find a kinship, but he can’t dissuade her from her plan.
The bottom line: The dialogue includes rare strong profanity and some semi-crude sexual language. There is one sexual situation that is not explicit but does feature semi-nudity. Mavis is a heavy drinker.
Horwitz is a freelance writer.