Family Filmgoer

By Jane Horwitz
Friday, January 5, 2007

Happily N'Ever After (PG, 87 minutes)

Kids ages 7 and older may find occasional amusement in this charmless and coarse sendup of traditional fairy tales, padded with too many jokes children won't get. The script of "Happily N'Ever After" is too crass for under-7s, with such phrases as "screw up," "pain in the butt" and "a butt the size of a shopping mall." The well-deserved PG rating also reflects toilet humor and scenes in which glowering wolves and witches flying on smoke-belching broomsticks chase the good guys.

Cinderella's wicked stepmother, Frieda (voice of Sigourney Weaver), remarks how nice it is when girls get eaten by wolves, and a wolf responds with "yeah, yeah yeah!" Too much information coming: For kids who love their fairy tales pure, beware of the Giant from "Jack and the Beanstalk" squishing Jack underfoot, Rapunzel falling out of her tower and Rumpelstiltskin stealing the baby after all. All this is done as cartoonish comedy, but still. . . .

The central plot has promise: Rick (Freddie Prinze Jr.), a lowly servant to the handsome but moronic Prince (Patrick Warburton), is in love with Ella, a.k.a. Cinderella (Sarah Michelle Gellar), but she yearns for the royal dude, as Rick tells us in his narration. Alas, too much unhilarious baggage weighs down Rick and Ella's love story.

Fairy Tale Land goes kablooey when Frieda learns that the Wizard (George Carlin) is on holiday and that his helpers, the piggish Munk (Wallace Shawn) and the batlike (or Chihuahua-like?) Mambo (Andy Dick), have bumbled their duties. Frieda usurps the Wizard's magic, summons trolls, witches and wolves and starts letting the bad guys win.

Miss Potter (PG, 92 minutes)

The good Victorian woman who illustrated and wrote "The Tale of Peter Rabbit" and more than 20 more stories about Peter, Jemima Puddle-Duck, Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle and others is portrayed in "Miss Potter" as a true artist, individualist and early conservationist.

This "Masterpiece Theatre"-esque study of Beatrix Potter may capture the imaginations of artistic and literary-minded kids 10 and older, but they'll need good attention spans. Some of Potter's charming drawings and watercolors come to life briefly in the film, but the animation element is low-key. A mild PG, it contains one strongish epithet and themes about death, grieving and a parent trying to squelch an adult child's dreams.

Renee Zellweger plays Beatrix as a slightly eccentric, unmarried, 30-ish upper-middle-class woman living in 1890s London with her genial father (Bill Paterson) and disapproving mother (Barbara Flynn). Beatrix creates her drawings and talks to her characters. When a publishing house agrees to release her first book, Beatrix and the editor they assign her, Norman Warne (Ewan McGregor), fall delicately in love, but of course their path is strewn with difficulties.


6 and Older

"Charlotte's Web"(G). Entertaining, if not sublime, semi-Hollywoodized adaptation of E.B. White's beloved 1952 book -- live-action, with many computer-generated effects -- about a piglet, Wilbur (voice of Dominic Scott Kay), rescued from slaughter by a little farm girl, Fern (Dakota Fanning), who must leave him in a neighbor's barn. There, he is befriended first by a spider, Charlotte (Julia Roberts), and eventually by geese Gussy and Golly (Oprah Winfrey and Cedric the Entertainer), cows Bitsy and Betsy (Kathy Bates and Reba McEntire), spider-phobic horse Ike (Robert Redford) and the rat, Templeton (Steve Buscemi). Charlotte saves Wilbur from a renewed threat of slaughter by weaving the message "some pig" into her web; humans deem it a wonder; still brings a tear at Charlotte's passing. Mildly crude barnyard expressions; cow-flatulence joke; subtle references to the killing of pigs, including Fern's father carrying an ax, and the smokehouse.

7 and Older

"Night at the Museum"(PG). Enjoyable if internally illogical comic romp (live-action with computer-generated effects) about a shlump (Ben Stiller) who gets a job as the night guard at New York's Museum of Natural History. His predecessors (Dick Van Dyke, Mickey Rooney, Bill Cobbs) don't tell him that the exhibits -- a T. rex skeleton, Attila the Hun, Sacagawea, Teddy Roosevelt (Robin Williams, having a bully time), miniature Roman legions, Civil War soldiers and cowboys (Owen Wilson in a cameo) -- all come alive and tear up the place after dark. Stiller must rein in the chaos, impress his son (Jake Cherry) and woo a cute tour guide (Carla Gugino). Little kids may jump at the dinosaur chasing Stiller, the Huns grabbing him; toilet humor; a few rude but unprofane expressions.

10 and Older

"Eragon"(PG). Rather silly, warmed over Dungeons & Dragons-type tale (from Christopher Paolini's book, the first in a planned trilogy) -- done in live action with special effects -- about farm boy Eragon (bland Edward Speleers), who finds a huge egg and sees it hatch and become a terrific flying dragon, Saphira (voice of Rachel Weisz), who talks to him telepathically. Eragon learns he is destined to be a dragon rider, battling an evil king (John Malkovich) and sorcerer (Robert Carlyle); a wise ex-dragon rider (Jeremy Irons) and lovely elf warrior (Sienna Guillory) are his allies. Battles with demons, their faces swarming with bugs; implied impalements, arrow piercings, nongraphic except for occasional bloodless gashes; nongraphic scene implies soldiers torture a man; cool, scary flights on Saphira; newly hatched dragon eats a rat, mostly off-camera.


"Freedom Writers."Satisfying drama mostly overcomes cliches in fact-based story of Erin Gruwell (a driven Hilary Swank in pearls), who taught high school English to supposedly "unteachable" teenagers from tough neighborhoods in Long Beach, Calif., in the early 1990s. Struck by the racial and gang tensions in class, she gets the kids to keep journals, talk about violence and prejudice and read "Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl." They meet Holocaust survivors and gain empathy and confidence. Nongraphic but intense portrayals of a robbery-murder and an incident in which a little boy plays with a gun and shoots himself; fights; verbal references to shootings and beatings; occasional profanity; racial slurs. High schoolers.

"Dreamgirls."Fun, high-gloss, well-sung and long-awaited film adaptation of 1981 Broadway hit musical about the tempestuous rise of a 1960s girl group inspired by the Supremes; Beyonce Knowles as the pretty Deena, Anika Noni Rose as the naive Lorrell and terrific Jennifer Hudson as the talented, temperamental Effie; Jamie Foxx as their Machiavellian manager; Eddie Murphy as the eccentric soul singer who hires them as a backup trio; much cultural history of the era neatly tossed in. Drug abuse; implied extramarital affairs; unwed motherhood; male singer strips to his skivvies to perform on television; mildish profanity, mostly the S-word. Okay for most teenagers.

"The Pursuit of Happyness."Fine, refreshingly un-Hollywood film offers unvarnished look at being one paycheck away from the street. Will Smith stars as a family man scrambling to get out of debt and make it through a nonpaying stock brokerage internship and into a real job in San Francisco, circa 1981. Smith's real son Jaden plays his film son, with Thandie Newton as the despondent wife who leaves them; loosely based on entrepreneur Chris Gardner's life. Rare profanity, including the F-word as a graffito and spoken by a child; smoking; depiction of a disintegrating marriage; scenes in which Chris and his son spend nights in a homeless shelter and a subway restroom; shoving and shouting but no violence. Teenagers.


"Children of Men."Chilling, intensely vivid, ultimately inspiring dystopian thriller (based on P.D. James's novel), set in a grim Britain, circa 2027, where a militarist regime rules a strife-torn land and brutally rounds up refugees; humans the world over have become infertile and are doomed. Clive Owen plays Theo, a former activist who now despairs; his ex-wife (Julianne Moore), an anti-government fighter, asks him to get travel papers for a special young woman (Claire-Hope Ashitey) who offers hope for humanity; an old mentor (Michael Caine) offers sanctuary; Theo and the girl must run a gantlet of violence. Shattering gun and bomb violence; bloody injuries; suicide theme; birth scene; very strong profanity; marijuana; drinking; smoking. Thoughtful film buffs 17 and older.

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