8 and older

Rise of the Guardians (PG). This animated film delves at times into the darker side of childhood (nightmares) in ways that kids younger than 8 may find too unsettling. The movie reimagines the story of Jack Frost. Jack is not one of the vaunted Guardians of the title, like the Tooth Fairy, the Sandman, the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus. Pitch is the bringer of nightmares. He wants kids to stop believing in those other nice creatures and to fear him.

THE BOTTOM LINE: The magical powers wielded in battles between the Guardians and Pitch get pretty intense, if not downright scary in 3-D. Early in the film, Jack takes Jamie on a harrowing sled ride. Spoiler alert: Late in the film, Jack learns that he drowned as a child while rescuing his little sister.

12 and older

Life of Pi (PG). Some of the 12-and-olders will lose patience with the film’s visually stunning but lengthy middle section and philosophizing. The movie features life-threatening survival issues for the teen protagonist, adrift in a lifeboat on the stormy Pacific with a wild and hungry tiger. Based on Yann Martel’s novel, the movie chronicles the tragedy and adventure in the life of Pi Patel, a smart, spiritually searching lad who lives with his family in India, where they own a zoo. Pi’s father decides that the family should move to Canada. While at sea, their ship capsizes. Pi loses his family and lands on a lifeboat with the tiger. The end of the saga unfolds in flashbacks as the adult Pi puts the story in perspective for a writer.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Early in the film, Pi’s father teaches him about the danger of wild animals by feeding a live goat to the tiger and making Pi watch. The animal violence is surprisingly graphic. There is toilet humor. Pi kills a big fish with an ax. Spoiler alert: At the end of the film, the older Pi tells a violent story.


Red Dawn. North Korean forces invade the Pacific Northwest and a feckless group of teens reconstitute themselves into a resistance force. It’s okay for most teens because the level of violence stays within the PG-13 range. Jed Eckert is an Iraq War vet. After the invasion, which they learn has taken place all over the United States, Jed trains his kid brother, Matt, and his friends to become a guerrilla team. When seasoned military veterans show up, they’re impressed with the kids.

THE BOTTOM LINE: The action sequences feature gunfire and explosions. None graphic, but we do see a wound being sewn up. Jed and Matt see their father shot by the North Koreans. The resistance fighters kill locals they believe collaborate with the enemy. The dialogue includes occasional crude language, mild profanity and one rude gesture. Characters drink beer and occasionally use understated sexual innuendo. They shoot a buck in the woods and make someone drink the deer’s blood as a prank.

Hitchcock. It’s hard to imagine this portrayal of film director Alfred Hitchcock capturing the imaginations of many teens, but it will delight cinema buffs just getting into film history. Having just finished “North by Northwest,” the portly director longs to venture beyond his stylish thrillers. Hitchcock’s wife, Alma Reville, puts up with his sad attempts at flirtations with his leading ladies. Alma, we learn, was his most essential creative collaborator as a film editor, a script editor and more, all to little acclaim.

The bottom line: Hitchcock drinks a lot. They talk about an actor who is a closeted homosexual and use the word “queer.” In Hitchcock’s imagination, he sees the real-life serial killer Ed Gein kill someone with a shovel (not too graphic) and drag a woman’s bloodied body into a bathtub. Hitchcock spies like a peeping Tom on actresses in their dressing rooms. There is much sexual innuendo.

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2. Teens in love with the books by Stephenie Meyer will not be disappointed with this finale. Bella, new bride of vampire Edward Cullen, has become a full-fledged vampire. She’s endowed with super strength and senses, intensifying the steamy-dreamy but nongraphic sexual charge between her and Edward. As the film opens, she wakes from a difficult pregnancy and childbirth. Bella finally sees her baby, Renesmee, who is a human-vampire hybrid. They’re not yet sure if she is immortal. Another vampire mistakes Renesmee for an “immortal child” — a human child who has been turned into a vampire. That is a capital crime in the vampire world because immortal children can’t keep their vampire natures secret. The Cullens call in vampire friends to testify on Renesmee’s behalf before the ruling Volturi Clan and their leader Aro.

THE BOTTOM LINE: While bloodless, the battle scenes among vampires show heads torn off and some of the immortal creatures set ablaze. The sexual charge between Bella and Edward increases a bit in this film. There is really only one bedroom scene, but it’s stylized and non-explicit. At other moments, the pair kiss passionately and joke non-explicitly about the violence of their lust. The newly transformed Bella, trying to sate her thirst for blood, nearly kills a deer, but a snarling mountain lion leaps into the frame. The camera cuts away, but one guesses the predator cat loses its life while the deer survives.

Horwitz is a freelance writer.