Family Filmgoer: Movie Reviews With Kids in Mind
Up (PG, 98 minutes)
A wildly imaginative and colorful new Disney/Pixar animated film, "Up" earns its PG rating for several reasons, and not all of them because of scary bits. The tale of a little boy, Russell (voice of Jordan Nagai), and an elderly widower, Carl Fredricksen (Ed Asner), who go on an amazing adventure to South America in a house propelled by balloons, has many quiet moments and a bittersweet montage about losing a loved one and about memories. Russell and Carl's friendship builds slowly, and with some difficulty, especially on Carl's part.
Kids younger than 6 may start to fidget and wonder what's going on with the quiet interludes. In addition, there are some genuinely scary scenes when fierce dogs chase our heroes. The villain of the piece, a crazed explorer, goes after Russell and Carl in a dirigible and sends dart-shooting planes after them. He also wields a shotgun. All that noted, "Up" is a near-total delight, which at times approaches profundity.
A wordless montage recounts what a happy married life Carl and Ellie had, though they couldn't have kids (sad moment in a hospital) and how they shared a yearning for adventure, though Carl's living as a balloon salesman didn't allow for much travel. After Ellie dies, Carl tangles with builders tearing up his neighborhood, bopping one on the head (some blood). He's ordered to move to an old folks' home. Instead, Carl rigs his old frame house with thousands of balloons and takes off into the blue yonder -- only to discover that Russell, a kid who has been trying to get Carl to help him earn a "help the elderly badge" for his Wilderness Explorers troop, is stranded on the porch.
He and Ellie had always wanted to see a place in South America called Paradise Falls, where an explorer they'd admired as kids, Charles Muntz (Christopher Plummer), discovered the remains of a huge rare bird. After a storm knocks the house about, Russell uses a GPS gadget to steer them within sight of the falls. But their floating house is damaged, and the old explorer's trained dogs come after them.
Before "Up," there's a wordless short, "Partly Cloudy" (G), that is a charmer, about little clouds that make all sorts of babies -- infants, puppies, kittens -- for storks to deliver. But one little cloud can't seem to make anything tamer than alligators or porcupines, and his stork is stressed-out.
6 and Older
"Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian" (PG). Bursting with special effects and plot, this lively yet charmless sequel to "Night at the Museum" (PG, 2006) will keep kids 6 and older engaged, if not in stitches. The film could spark kids' interest in everything from aviation history to art. The littlest ones may briefly cower at the roaring T. rex skeleton, the giant squid, the Egyptian warriors, the statue of Abraham Lincoln coming to life or the planes zooming around the National Air and Space Museum. Larry (Ben Stiller), the nighttime security guard from the New York museum in the first film, now sells gadgets. He learns that the old exhibits are being sent to the Smithsonian. Larry bids farewell to Teddy Roosevelt (Robin Williams) but later gets a call from miniature cowboy Jedediah (Owen Wilson) that ancient pharaoh Kahmunrah (Hank Azaria) is wreaking havoc. Larry heads to Washington and, with a spunky come-to-life Amelia Earhart (Amy Adams), saves the day.
"Drag Me to Hell." Comedy and horror make inconsistent bedfellows in this occasionally amusing, often gross parable from filmmaker Sam Raimi about a bank officer cursed by an angry customer. The film's classic horror images include demons and corpses vomiting maggots and embalming fluid, eyeballs and false teeth popping out, and a projectile nosebleed, as well as violent fights. A prologue shows a boy pulled into a fiery abyss by a demon. Christine (Alison Lohman), a loan officer, wants a promotion and needs to impress her boss (David Paymer). She refuses an extension to a mortgage holder, and the old crone (Lorna Raver) curses her. Visits from a shadowy demon tormentor drive Christine to the brink. Most of the effects in the film look deliberately cheesy, in keeping with the comedy/horror hybrid. There is rare profanity. Not ultra-graphic horror but a bit much for sensitive middle-schoolers.
"Dance Flick." The extended Wayans family of film and TV comics brings us this stunningly crude, tiresome spoof of just about every teen-focused dance movie of recent memory. The film is too bawdy for middle-schoolers. Would-be dancer Megan (Shoshana Bush) loses her mother and moves in with her dad (Chris Elliott). At her new high school, she meets Thomas (Damon Wayans Jr.). They fall in love and work on dance routines. But Thomas has to deal with violent rivals from a street dance contest and an oversize gangster named Sugar Bear (David Alan Grier, who is truly funny). The film has gay jokes and gross humor about female body parts, teen pregnancy and neglectful parenting. There is mild profanity, sexual innuendo and jokes about drinking.
"Terminator Salvation." With its unremitting mayhem and gloom, this new chapter in the "Terminator" series could give dystopian science fiction a bad name. Teens may find the intensity gripping, but if they don't know the earlier films, this could be a hard slog. The film is grimly violent, though with limited gore and rare profanity. Killer robots from Skynet, the program that aims to destroy humanity, keep human prisoners underground. In a prologue, inmate Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington) donates his body to science (death by lethal injection shown). Years later, human resistance fighters follow John Connor (Christian Bale). John must decide whether the now-bionic Marcus Wright is for humans or machines.
"Star Trek." This film works just fine as a popcorn flick and as a true-to-its-source myth-origin tale for purists. It recounts in boisterous and occasionally jumbled detail how James T. Kirk (Chris Pine), Spock (Zachary Quinto) and others, meet as junior officers on the maiden voyage of the USS Enterprise. The film will also work for many kids 10 to 12, but some may be unsettled by the space battles and the Romulans' ship with its planet-killing drill. There is a hint of torture, intense fighting and an implied impalement, as well as mild sexual humor and innuendo, a brief nongraphic sexual situation and rare mild profanity. In a "disrupted time continuum," young Kirk meets an old Spock (Leonard Nimoy, natch), who offers crucial advice.