The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (PG, 140 minutes)
Children 10 and older who know and love the "Chronicles of Narnia" books by C.S. Lewis will thrill to see this faithful film adaptation of the most famous book in the series. Others -- even some younger fans of Lewis's books -- may find "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" a bit long and occasionally rather heavy going. For a PG-rated film, it becomes very violent in its third act, as the good-vs.-evil battle for the mythic land of Narnia commences. Yet the film, despite all its computer-generated magic, has many old-fashioned charms, especially in its muted, storybook first half. Director Andrew Adamson allows no modernisms to taint the 1940s British tone or his excellent young actors.
In the book, the fighting between the monstrous minions (warthogs, wolves, other snarling creatures) of the White Witch and those of the good, all-knowing lion, Aslan, are not described in gory detail. The film strongly implies that both human and magical beings are pierced by arrows and spears and thwacked by maces. Though not bloody, the battle scenes approach the intensity of the PG-13-rated "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. The film opens with a scary bombing raid on London during the Blitz, when the four Pevensie children and their mother barely make it to their shelter. Other themes deal with betrayal and loss. Plot giveaways: One boy appears to be badly wounded in battle, and Aslan is stabbed (off-camera) and appears to die. Both soon revive.
The Pevensie siblings, little Lucy (adorable Georgie Henley), cranky Edmund (Skandar Keynes), mature Susan (Anna Popplewell) and kind Peter (William Moseley) are evacuated from London to a professor's (Jim Broadbent) country mansion. Lucy crawls into an old wardrobe and finds a portal into the wintry, magical land of Narnia, populated by animals and mythical creatures that talk. Befriended by a faun named Mr. Tumnus (James McAvoy), she learns that an evil White Witch (Tilda Swinton) rules Narnia and has made it winter year-round but never Christmas. All four kids eventually go with Lucy to Narnia and join with Aslan (voice of Liam Neeson), the great spiritual, even Christlike, lion, to defeat the witch.
Kindergartners and Older
"Chicken Little" (G). Disney computer-animated feature (in 3-D at some theaters) updates Chicken Little fable with much humor, not so much visual or narrative pizazz; still smarting from his "big mistake" in claiming the sky was falling, tiny bespectacled Chicken Little (voice of Zach Braff) makes his dad (Garry Marshall) briefly proud with a baseball triumph, but then raises the sky-is-falling alarm again -- it's an alien invasion -- and few believe him. Plot giveaways: Space aliens chase Chicken Little and pals in spidery machines with pincer legs; images of animal organs in jars on spaceship; aliens zap critter-denizens of Chicken Little's town -- scarier in 3-D; all are fine by the end, as is a lost three-eyed alien tot; themes about missing a deceased parent; mild toilet humor.
8 and Older
"Yours, Mine & Ours" (PG). Good-humored but disappointing, unpolished, disjointed comedy (based on 1968 Lucille Ball-Henry Fonda film) about an artsy widow (Rene Russo) with 10 kids who marries her high school sweetheart (Dennis Quaid), a Coast Guard officer with eight kids; they merge families, but her free-spirited child-rearing doesn't jibe with his military approach. The kids (some far too cutesy) plot to spoil the marriage. Mild marital sexual situation; other mild sexual innuendo; rare gross humor; adult characters drink; teenagers bring beer to unsupervised party; rare mild profanity.
10 and Older
"Pride & Prejudice" (PG). Pleasantly unfusty, nonliterary adaptation -- still set in period -- of Jane Austen's 1813 classic of love, obstructed by misunderstanding and class snobbery, between plucky Elizabeth Bennet (Keira Knightley, who could've added more depth to Lizzie) and somber, smoldering Mr. Darcy (Matthew Macfadyen); a few too many whirling, MTV-ish camera moves and actors posed and coifed like Vogue models, but overall a romantic treat with nary a kiss till the too-mushy end. Mild sexual innuendo. Kids -- mostly girls -- with romantic hearts.
"Aeon Flux." Charlize Theron, in 25th-century dominatrix gear, bangs heads and never smiles as a rebel agent in this confounding, rather tedious futuristic thriller (based on animated shorts on MTV); she is ordered to assassinate the fascistic leader (Marton Csokas) of a utopian city, created 400 years earlier, when a virus nearly wiped out humankind; she senses a past connection to him and begins to question current reality. Bone-cracking, occasionally bloody fights, stabbings, deafening gunplay; scanty, suggestive female clothing; near-toplessness; steamy kissing scenes, leading to subtly implied sexual tryst. More for high schoolers.
"Just Friends." Lowbrow, crass, slapstick farce -- not infrequently amusing -- about formerly overweight high school outcast (Ryan Reynolds), now a suave pop music promoter on a stopover in his hometown; he decides to bed the girl (Amy Smart) he loved in high school but who rejected him, saying they were "just friends"; his smart-guy-with-no-feelings act fools no one. Rather strong profanity for a PG-13; much semi-raunchy verbal, visual sexual innuendo; mildly and comically implied oral sex, other sexual situations; implied toplessness; chaste night together; incest joke; drinking; gross humor. High schoolers.
"Rent." Faithful, heart-on-its-sleeve adaptation of 1996 Broadway rock musical hit (by the late Jonathan Larson) feels a bit like a stagebound artifact but could charm romantic, theater-loving teenagers with its tale of straight and gay friends living bohemian life as artists in grungy New York lofts, circa 1989; they deal with AIDS, drug abuse, love, rejection; with most of the original stage stars, though Rosario Dawson is new as drug-addicted club dancer Mimi, who falls for songwriter Roger (Adam Pascal) in echo of Puccini's "La Boheme." Brief nongraphic violence; middling profanity; verbal, visual sexual innuendo -- some of it a bit raunchy; AIDS death; drug abuse, withdrawal; drinking; smoking. Teenagers.
"Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire." Harry and friends face puberty, inklings of romance, reality of death, looming adulthood in lengthy but fun, wholly involving, spiffily filmed and acted take on J.K. Rowling's fourth book. Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) competes in Triwizard Tournament and faces evil Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes). Sometimes bloody violence, nightmarish images: huge serpent, creepy spider, Voldemort has snake-like face; pogrom-like attack by Death Eaters; Harry battles fire-breathing dragon, underwater monsters; Voldemort's servant (Timothy Spall), cuts off his own hand, gashes Harry's arm for blood; Harry and Voldemort's pyrotechnical battle causes collateral death of a boy, intense grief at school; mild teen sexual innuendo; adult characters drink, talk of Scotch; brief mild profanity. Okay for most preteens.
"Walk the Line." Great lead performances, foot-stompin' music raise traditional biopic to stratosphere; Joaquin Phoenix blazes in stunning embodiment of country music legend Johnny Cash as a young, troubled man; Reese Witherspoon his equal as singer June Carter, with whom he shared a largely stifled passion for years while they were wed to others; both do their own singing. Strongly implied premarital tryst, cuddling on a bed; sexual innuendo involving groupies; early scene shows child dying of wounds from unseen buzz saw accident; drug use; drinking, smoking; rare profanity; Cash's verbally abusive dad (Robert Patrick). High schoolers.
"Syriana." Often murky but fascinating thriller linking many themes, characters -- perhaps too many -- in tale of oil, politics, corruption, moral ambiguity, radical Islam, terror; with George Clooney as CIA operative, Matt Damon as oil industry analyst advising a progressive prince (Alexander Siddig) in oil-rich emirate, Jeffrey Wright as Washington lawyer helping American oil companies achieve a dubious merger. Scene of torture shows beating, strongly implies fingernails being torn out; upsetting scene shows lead character's child die in swimming pool because of an electrical short -- much grieving; shootouts; a terror explosion; big game hunting; strong profanity; verbal threats; drinking and smoking. High schoolers.