The Little Mermaid (PG)
Watered-down retelling has poor acting, production values.
“The Little Mermaid” is a loose, live-action interpretation of Hans Christian Andersen’s classic fairy tale that’s set in early 20th-century Mississippi and will likely appeal to kids who enjoy all things mermaid. There’s some action violence, including a high-stakes pursuit, a magical battle between two characters with supernatural abilities, a fistfight, a man who uses a whip to injure others and a presumed death. Two circus-related characters are creepy/potentially disturbing, and at one point it seems like both a little girl and a mermaid may die of an illness. But (spoiler alert!) unlike the original Andersen story, all ends well here. Romance is limited to longing looks and a couple of quick kisses, and there’s no swearing or substance use. The movie has an African American supporting character, but at no point is the Jim Crow segregation of the era adhered to or signaled, creating a sanitized view of Southern life at the time. (85 minutes)
Boy, wolf face intense peril in epic prehistoric adventure
“Alpha” is an intense survival adventure about a prehistoric teen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) who forms the first human-canine bond with a wolf while trying to make it home. Expect significant, frequent peril to both the boy and the wolf, including cliff falls, animal attacks, lingering injuries, exposure, deprivation and illness. Animals are killed out of necessity. Teens are beaten by adults as part of a rite of passage, but briefly and not viciously (the scene is actually out of focus). But there’s no sex, language or substance use, and the film has strong themes of courage, perseverance and empathy. (96 minutes)
Crazy Rich Asians (PG-13)
Messages, role models stand out in culture-clash rom-com.
“Crazy Rich Asians” is a book-based rom-com that centers on Rachel Chu (Constance Wu), a smart, independent Chinese American economics professor who’s in love with Nick Young (Henry Golding), who turns out to be from an insanely wealthy Singapore family. The world of materialism, obscene wealth, status and expectation that Rachel encounters there is totally over the top: Money is literally thrown in the air. Expect to hear some strong language (including “s---,” “t-ts” and more) and see drinking during many party scenes; cocaine use is also briefly implied. Couples kiss, and sex is suggested but not shown; one actress is rumored to be a porn star, and men make snide comments about women’s cosmetic surgery and physical appearance (including small breasts). That said, women aren’t objectified overall; instead, the camera tends to linger on shirtless men. The very rare mainstream Hollywood release to feature an all-Asian cast, the film avoids Asian stereotypes — but it does have a fairly stereotypical gay character. And the cattiness is off the charts, with some fairly shocking “mean girl” behavior. But it’s refreshing to see a rom-com heroine who doesn’t need saving by a man (Rachel loves her life, and she and Nick have a healthy, respectful relationship), and the film has strong messages about loving yourself, staying in control and addressing problems with dignity and class. (121 minutes)
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