Chicken Little (G, 78 minutes)
Disney's first in-studio computer-animated feature, an update of the "Chicken Little" fable, earns plenty of chuckles in its own right and will offer kids from kindergarten on up a happy diversion. It will not, however, displace recent Pixar classics (merely distributed by Disney) such as "Toy Story" (G, 1995) or "The Incredibles" (PG, 2004). "Chicken Little" is not wildly inventive or technically gorgeous, and its story relies too much on a corn mush of pop psychology. Still, its messages about the need for unconditional parental love and learning to overcome mistakes are worth hearing, if oversold. And it has a few inspired gags: In Chicken Little's farm-animal town, a bull runs a china shop, and Mayor Turkey Lurkey (voice of Don Knotts) wears a Pilgrim outfit.
Plot giveaways coming: Several scenes in which space aliens chase Chicken Little and his friends in tall, spiderlike machines with long legs that turn into pincers and propellers could frighten the littlest children. The sky turns to ice when an alien ship lands, and there are images of what look like animal organs in sample jars on the aliens' space ship. They also seem to "zap" the critters in Chicken Little's town with death rays, though by the end we see aliens and Earth creatures are all right -- even a scared, furry, three-eyed alien baby, accidentally lost by its parents. The script contains themes about a deceased parent (Chicken Little's mom) and the angst of being unpopular in school. There is also mild toilet humor.
Bespectacled, tiny Chicken Little (Zach Braff) still can't get beyond his "big mistake" -- telling everyone in the farm-animal town of Oakey Oaks the sky was falling after something bumped him on the head. Even his dad (Garry Marshall) remains embarrassed, and father and son can't seem to talk it over, though Chicken Little's best friend Abby Mallard (Joan Cusack) urges him to seek "closure." Desperate to make his father proud, Chicken Little joins the school baseball team and to everyone's surprise, has a triumph. It is short-lived, though, because he has another sky-is-falling experience. It's an alien invasion -- and no one believes him.
6 and Older
"Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit" (G). Riotous, very British stop-motion delight about cheese-loving inventor Wallace (voice of Peter Sallis) and his smarter, silent dog, Gromit; W&G guard neighbors' vegetable gardens against rabbits (humanely) but find trouble when a huge, veg-chomping Were-Rabbit threatens to spoil Lady Tottington's (Helena Bonham Carter) giant vegetable competition; her suitor, Victor (Ralph Fiennes), wants to shoot all bunnies. Mild comic sexual innuendo younger kids won't get; British slang for derriere ("arse"); a bare tush; tots could jump at 'toonish mayhem when a mild creature morphs into Were-Rabbit, when Victor tries to kill it, when his snarling dog and Gromit face off, when bunnies shake after a spin in Wallace's mind-control machine.
8 and Older
"Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story" (PG). Pleasant, if undistinguished film (loosely based on a true story) about a girl (Dakota Fanning) in Kentucky horse country who persuades her dad (Kurt Russell), an embittered, unemployed horse trainer, to rescue a filly from death after it breaks a leg; she urges him and granddad (Kris Kristofferson), who are estranged, to rehabilitate and race her. Early scenes showing filly breaking her leg (fall is harrowing but not graphic), nearly being put down could upset kids; subtle ethnic slurs; mild sexual innuendo; barnyard humor.
PG-13 and One That Should Be PG-13
"The Legend of Zorro" (PG). Exuberant, lavish, cleverly plotted (though unconvincing on historical facts) big-time Hollywood sequel to "The Mask of Zorro" (PG-13, 1998) is fun but far too violent for its rating; set in 1850, tale finds Zorro/Alejandro (Antonio Banderas) and Elena (Catherine Zeta-Jones) married, with a 10-year-old son (Adrian Alonso); they separate over Alejandro's refusal to give up fighting evil as Zorro; California is about to become a state; a French count (Rufus Sewell) courts Elena and has evil designs on United States. Deafening, sometimes point-blank (though bloodless) gunplay; swords, daggers, head-bashing fights; huge explosions -- a man engulfed in one; baby nearly burned; older child in jeopardy; vicious threats; implied nudity; sexual innuendo; crude ethnic slur; drinking; smoking. Teenagers, some 'tweens.
"Prime." Meryl Streep has fun with the Jewish earth mother stereotype as a psychotherapist who gets tied in knots trying (and failing) not to meddle when she discovers her 23-year-old son (Bryan Greenberg) is having a passionate affair with her newly divorced 37-year-old patient (Uma Thurman); nothing subtle about this boomer comedy, but it is well acted, enjoyable and a celebration of family and tradition. Explicit discussion of sex and sex organs in therapist's office; implied sexual situations; other milder sexual innuendo; implied one-night stand; profanity; drinking; smoking. Not for middle schoolers.
"Jarhead." Riveting film set before, during first Gulf War about how fighting men kept combative spirit alive while waiting for battle; based on Anthony Swofford's memoir about being a Marine, trying to reconcile ultra-macho, profane, sexualized language and behavior with civilian life; Jake Gyllenhaal as Swofford, Peter Sarsgaard as pal, Jamie Foxx as a sergeant, Chris Cooper as a lieutenant colonel. Nightmarish images of charred Iraqi corpses on so-called Highway of Death; Marine dies during training exercise; highly graphic sexual language; graphically implied masturbation; flashbacks, videos of explicit sexual situations with nudity; men in showers with discreetly placed shadows; scary argument involving a gun; ethnic slurs; grim toilet humor; smoking, drinking. 17 and older.
"The Weather Man." Nicolas Cage, in offbeat seriocomedy about making peace with one's limitations, as a hapless TV weather man whose career may take off while his personal life craters; he can't seem to please his famous novelist dad (Michael Caine), his ex-wife (Hope Davis) hates him, his teenage son (Nicholas Hoult) and preteen daughter (Gemmenne de la Pena) are in trouble. Subplot about pedophile counselor includes scene in which the boy is asked to take off his shirt and a verbal description of an attempted seduction; explicit sexual situation between adults; partial nudity; strong profanity, sexual language; brief violence; adult drinking; children smoking, swearing. 17 and older.
"Saw II." Grossly violent but ingeniously plotted sequel to last year's low-budget serial killer/horror flick, "Saw" (R, 2004) -- murderous mayhem again masterminded by Jigsaw (Tobin Bell), a killer with a God complex who snares victims he deems deserving in secret death-traps, then lets them try to get out; this time it's a house with seeping poison gas; Donnie Wahlberg as the cop with a personal stake in figuring out where the house is. Bloody impalings, knifings, shootings, slit throat, wrists, burning alive, fingers broken; teenager in jeopardy; drug use, attempted suicide; crude verbal sexual innuendo; strong profanity. 17 and older.
"The Squid and the Whale." Filmmaker Noah Baumbach's acerbic, funny, devastatingly detailed portrait of a family imploding, based partly on memories of his own parents' breakup; Jeff Daniels as the writer/academic dad, a hyper-critical, self-absorbed cheapskate, Laura Linney as his mild writer/wife; their sons are devastated by the divorce and unwanted new knowledge of their parents' flaws; the teen (Jesse Eisenberg) goofs off in school, experiments with sex; the preteen (Owen Kline) drinks, masturbates furtively in public places (graphically implied). Strong profanity; graphic sexual language; sexual situations between teenagers; implied adult liaisons; infidelity theme. 17 and older.
"Shopgirl." Poignant, bittersweet tale of love lost, mistaken and found; based on Steve Martin's novella about a lonely twenty-something Vermont girl (Claire Danes) selling gloves in a Los Angeles department store; she meets an immature, whiny, self-absorbed guy (Jason Schwartzman) who's smitten but can't woo her, and a wealthy, emotionally guarded older man (Martin) who can; neat blend of European, Hollywood styles -- a bit pretentious, but lovely. Semiexplicit sexual situations; back-view nudity; implied masturbation; condom humor; other innuendo; crude language; verbal reference to dope; drinking. 16 and older.
"Nine Lives." Intriguing dramatic anthology with fine acting (by Robin Wright Penn, Holly Hunter, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Amy Brenneman, Sissy Spacek, others) sketches nine women in crisis -- incarceration, breast cancer, rocky marriage -- in nine segments, each shot in a single, unedited take; the lives are linked, but the individual dramas don't add up to a big emotional punch. Very strong profanity, sexual language; other sexual innuendo; hints of remembered parental sexual abuse; explicit, though clothed, sexual situation; discussion of suicide threat. 17 and older.