Family Filmgoer - Movie Reviews With Kids in Mind

Made-up tales start coming true in "Bedtime Stories," which stars Adam Sandler, with Teresa Palmer.
Made-up tales start coming true in "Bedtime Stories," which stars Adam Sandler, with Teresa Palmer. (By Tracy Bennett)
By Jane Horwitz
Friday, December 26, 2008

Bedtime Stories (PG, 95 minutes)

This much-anticipated kids' comedy seems likely to satisfy youngsters 8 and older as well as teen and adult Adam Sandler fans, based on youthful giggles heard at a preview. That doesn't mean "Bedtime Stories" is a great film. Its script is a crude mix of sarcasm and sentimentality, and its fantasy sequences are clumsily made and often incomprehensible. The movie has the Sandler silliness factor that kids seem to crave, and it's harmless enough.

Sandler plays Skeeter Bronson, chief custodian at a luxury hotel in Los Angeles, which, we learn in the prologue, was once a little motel run by Skeeter's late father (Jonathan Pryce). Skeeter's the sort of guy who never grows up, yet his newly divorced school-principal sister (Courteney Cox) leaves her young children with Skeeter while she flies off to a job interview. To keep his depressed charges entertained, Skeeter makes up stories and lets the kids turn the plots. The tales start coming true in Skeeter's real life. Jill (Keri Russell), a friend of Skeeter's sister, enters the picture, very disapproving of Skeeter's babysitting style -- at first.

There is crude humor, including a gross "booger monster." There are rude names such as "Sir Butt-Kiss" in one of the fantasies. A gag about an angry dwarf manages to be unfunny and tasteless. An adult character has loud, bizarre nightmares. Other elements include a theme about divorce and how it affects kids. There is a spoof of eco-parents who won't allow kids junk food, meat or television. And most important, the contrived, illogical, really stupid finale puts kids in danger.

Marley & Me (PG, 110 minutes)

We begin with a plot spoiler: This generally enjoyable, if undistinguished, adaptation of John Grogan's popular book contains the book's sad ending. Anyone who loves pets can't avoid being moved by watching a beloved animal companion age, grow ill, be kissed good-bye by its humans and euthanized. The film shows all that. The last quarter of the movie involves the final years of the yellow Lab Marley and how his family faces the prospect of losing him. "Marley & Me" is fine for kids 8 and older, but some parents may want to leave the theater after Marley recovers from his first old-age illness, rather than stay to the teary end.

Other elements that earn the PG include a failed pregnancy, mild profanity, drinking, dog-poop humor and a neutering joke. There is implied skinny-dipping, implied marital sexual situations, a couple fights over family responsibilities and stress, and an off-screen violent crime. We see a stabbing victim who's not seriously injured and blood.

Owen Wilson is John Grogan, whom we meet as a young newspaper reporter. He and his girlfriend, Jennifer (Jennifer Aniston), also a newspaper writer, marry and move to big new jobs in Florida, where they get a puppy. The pooch grows into a destructive, rambunctious, comically untrainable sweetie pie. John, who longs to be a hard-bitten news reporter, finds his niche as a columnist, writing about many things, but often about Marley, furniture-chewing and all.

Also Playing

6 and Older

"The Tale of Despereaux" (G). This richly imagined animated feature harks back to a purer style of storytelling and ought to entrance kids 6 and older. Adapted from Kate DiCamillo's book, it has bits that could scare kids younger than 6, such as rats cheering for a cat to eat the little mouse hero and the mouse falling into a dungeon and running a gantlet of mousetraps. The film juggles too many characters, some of whom undergo dizzying personality changes, but kids will keep up. A rat named Roscuro (Dustin Hoffman) arrives at the charmingly medieval Kingdom of Dor, where soup is an obsession. Drawn to the palace by the aroma, Roscuro falls into the queen's bowl, and the lady dies of fright. Chased by guards, Roscuro lands in a dungeon of violent Rat World. Behind a wall in the palace kitchen, Despereaux (Matthew Broderick) is born in Mouse World. The undersize cutie with big ears dreams of unmouselike heroism. Despereaux is banished to the dungeon for visiting the sad princess (Emma Watson). There he bonds with Roscuro over the idea of valor. The courage of mouse and rat is soon tested.


"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button." At 2 hours and 45 minutes, this beautifully told saga never feels long. It is an intimate tale with historic sweep. A dying old woman (Cate Blanchett in age makeup) in a New Orleans hospital with Hurricane Katrina blowing outside has her daughter (Julia Ormond) read aloud from an old diary. As the narrator, Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt), takes over, the film flashes back to a clock that runs backward. Button is born in 1918. His mother dies in childbirth (bloody sheets shown) and the baby looks like a shriveled old man. His horrified father (Jason Flemyng) abandons the infant on the steps of a New Orleans old folks' home. The childless housekeeper (Taraji P. Henson) raises the boy, who gets younger-looking as he grows up. We follow Benjamin as he becomes a seafaring man, discovers sex (at a brothel) and true love, and realizes how fleeting happiness and life are. He meets Daisy when he is a child. Years later (played by Blanchett), Daisy has traveled the world as a ballerina. Their ages and looks coincide enough for them to fall in love. There are strongly implied but nonexplicit sexual situations and partial nudity, a harrowing car accident, bodies in the ocean after a naval battle and gun deaths. There is occasional profanity, drinking and smoking. Fine for most teens.

"Yes Man." There are triumphant moments in this darkly comic parable, but much of it feels like a TV sitcom trying too hard to be edgy. Jim Carrey plays Carl, a divorced man so despondent he says no to everything. Then Carl attends a motivational seminar where the speaker (Terence Stamp) gets him to commit to saying yes to everything. Carrey shows a touching mix of tears and joy. Then he gives a homeless man a lift, which leads him to meet Allison (Zooey Deschanel). He says yes to Korean lessons, flying lessons, guitar lessons and more. There is drinking, midrange profanity and a strongly implied sexual situation. There is milder sexual innuendo, a bar fight, a suicide theme and a car crash. More for high-schoolers.

"Seven Pounds." Teens who are moved by altruism may be drawn to "Seven Pounds," but they'll have to overlook the clumsy manipulation and syrupy glaze director Gabriele Muccino pours over everything. Will Smith is tax man Ben Thomas, who seems to have a tragedy in his past and helps people who have problems in their lives and who owe the government money. This story couldn't be more predictable. There is rare profanity, a gently implied sexual situation, a suicide theme and nongraphic flashbacks to a fatal car accident. Mature teens.

"Twilight." Teens who love Stephenie Meyer's vampire books will find much to swoon over in this moody adaptation of the first novel. The bloodsuckers strike too many fashion-magazine poses, but more often "Twilight" is a poignant, occasionally thrilling meditation on the struggle between desire and restraint, love and sacrifice. Bella (Kristen Stewart) is attracted to her pale, sullen high-school classmate, Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), and learns he is a vampire. His family never drinks human blood, but Edward fears his passion for Bella will weaken his willpower. There is understated sexual innuendo and one kiss. A battle involves blood.

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