The Muppets (PG). Completely fun for kids 7 and older, “The Muppets” brings back the fuzzy, low-tech crew in all their glory. Gary and Mary are going to Los Angeles to celebrate their 10th anniversary of going steady. Gary’s brother, Walter, is actually made of felt, though he doesn’t seem to know it. They take him to see the now-decrepit Muppet Studios in L.A. Walter overhears an evil business mogul saying he intends to tear the place down. Walter, Gary and Mary promise to help Kermit organize a telethon to raise $10 million to restore Muppet Studios. Then they travel the country rounding up the gang.
THE BOTTOM LINE: There’s little that’s off-color or nasty in “The Muppets.” There’s that passionate spark between Piggy and Kermit, and a human one between Gary and Mary, however shy.
Happy Feet Two (PG). Kids 7 and older already familiar with “Happy Feet” will be able to jump into this sequel with both feet tapping. “Happy Feet Two” mixes the cuteness of penguin characters with a theme about following your dream. Mumble, the young penguin of the first film, is now a father. His son Erik meets the mysterious Sven, a penguin who can fly. While Mumble is off searching for Erik, huge chunks of ice break off and isolate the colony. Mumble and Erik need help to rescue the other penguins.
The bottom line: The 3-D animation will make the breaking up of huge icebergs scary for kids younger than 7. Erik and his dad are threatened by elephant seals. There’s a sense that Erik’s mom and the other emperor penguins could starve after their colony is cut off. The humor includes very mild sexual innuendo.
Arthur Christmas (PG). Not just another corny Santa story gussied up in computer-animated 3-D, “Arthur Christmas” is fresh. The sophistication of the British-accented dialogue and the occasional darkness of the story make the film better for kids 8 and older, though younger children can enjoy the characters, animation and physical comedy. Arthur is the younger son of Santa, who’s pooped, but reluctant to step down. Santa’s oldest son, Steve, has turned the operation into a computerized marvel. But Steve’s system fails to deliver a bike to a little girl. Arthur decides he’ll fix the error. Without Steve’s or Santa’s knowledge, he sets off with ancient Grandsanta on the old reindeer-powered sleigh.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Some of the aerobatics could unsettle kids younger than 8. The idea of a selfish grandparent could dismay little ones. The film contains rare mild sexual innuendo and toilet humor.
Hugo (PG). While often comic, and though it ends happily, this film is not ideal for children younger than 10. It runs longer than two hours, and explores dark themes of loss, loneliness and failure. For attentive kids 10 and older, “Hugo” offers a charmed tale that is also a crash course in early film history. Hugo lives inside the clockworks of a Paris train station, narrowly avoiding capture by the orphan-hunting Station Inspector. Hugo was taught how to fix machines by his late father. Now alone, he has been trying to repair a mechanical man that he and his dad were working on. He’s caught stealing by the owner of a toy shop, who con-fiscates a notebook full of diagrams.
The bottom line: When Hugo is chased by the Station Inspector, he dangles high over Paris. The Inspector captures another orphan boy and sends him away in a sad scene. The bitterness of the brokenhearted shop owner is an adult theme. We see brief footage of World War I trench warfare. There is mild, subtle sexual innuendo.
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 1. The erotic longing between high-school grad Bella Swan and gentlemanly vampire Edward Cullen finally resolves itself in the marriage bed. There is little that can be called explicit, yet this installment is definitely less geared to middle-schoolers. Bella becomes pregnant with a baby that could be a demon. The Cullen clan worries that they should terminate the pregnancy, though Bella refuses, ready to sacrifice a life with Edward to save their offspring. Jacob, a longtime rival for Bella’s love, alternates between worrying about Bella, threatening to kill the “demon” once it’s born and trying to protect Bella and the Cullens from his werewolf pack.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The innuendo about the intensity of Bella and Edward’s lovemaking is quite strong, though not graphic. A birth sequence late in the film becomes very bloody, and there are snarling, violent confrontations among the werewolves, and between them and the vampires.
The Descendants. High-schoolers who admire fine acting and a good story ought to be pulled right into “The Descendants.” George Clooney’s Matt King is a lawyer in Honolulu and has true Hawaiian heritage. Matt’s extended family is about to sell off a huge chunk of land to a developer. This is complicated by the fact that Matt’s wife has been in a boating accident and lies in a hospital on life support. Matt, who admits that he has always been the backup parent, must now care for his two daughters.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Throughout the film, we revisit Matt’s wife on life support and focus on Matt’s and his daughters’ grief. The film deals with the decision to take her off it and the idea that she’ll die. There is some strong language and a sexual infidelity theme.
Horwitz is a freelance writer.