Democracy Dies in Darkness


What to watch with your kids: ‘Alpha,’ ‘Pandas,’ ‘The Little Mermaid’ and more

August 15, 2018 at 7:00 PM

Pandas (G)

Age 6+

Educational doc about scientists training pandas to go wild.

Pandas” is an educational Imax nature documentary narrated by Kristen Bell that focuses on an initiative shared by Americans and the Chinese to introduce bred pandas into the wild. The film focuses on the Chengdu Panda Base in China, where scientists breed adorable baby pandas in captivity with the hopes of releasing them into their natural habitat. With the help of an American black bear expert who has rescued and released bears in New England for decades, a team of panda specialists attempts to do the same in China. There’s nothing too iffy in the film other than a suspenseful scene in which it’s unclear whether the main panda, Qian Qian, will survive in the wild. (Spoiler alert: She does!) (40 minutes)

The Little Mermaid (PG)

Age 8+

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)

Kodi Smit-McPhee stars in “Alpha.” (Alan Markfield/Sony Pictures Entertainment)

Alpha (PG-13)

Age 12+

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)

From left: Michelle Yeoh, Henry Golding and Constance Wu star in “Crazy Rich Asians.” (Sanja Bucko/Warner Bros. Pictures)

Crazy Rich Asians (PG-13)

Age 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)

Common Sense Media helps families make smart media choices. Go to for age-based and educational ratings and reviews for movies, games, apps, TV shows, websites and books.

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