Ernest & Celestine (PG). A gruff bear and a brave mouse defy prejudice and forge a friendship in this charming animated treat from Europe. With its sketchlike, color-washed style, the film (based on books by Belgian writer-illustrator Gabrielle Vincent) should appeal to kids 8 and older, especially those who love doing art. Some scenes may be too intense for viewers younger than 8. It is a snowy day in the small town where bears live above ground and run things, and mice live below in a separate civilization. The fear of bears is drummed into the little mouse Celestine. Bears learn that mice are filthy, yet edible. Celestine is studying how to steal bear cubs’ baby teeth for replacement use in the mouse world, where sharp teeth are essential. Her love of drawing is discouraged. When she tries to steal the tooth of a bear cub, the cub’s dad, a candy store owner, catches her and dumps her in the trash. Ernest the bear — cranky, broke and hungry — rummages through the can and finds Celestine. She talks him into raiding the candy store with her. Soon they are best pals, living in Ernest’s cabin, until they learn the police are after them.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Scenes showing Celestine and Ernest captured by bear and mouse police, held in jail, interrogated and put on trial are quite dark, full of veiled threats about the consequences if they don’t betray each other. For adults, the film has metaphoric whiffs of Europe in World War II and today’s European disputes about immigrants.
Muppets Most Wanted (PG). While it runs long and goes overboard with visual gags that only grown-ups will get, “Muppets Most Wanted” will easily keep kids 10 and older happily engaged. Eager to cash in on the Muppets’ fame, Kermit hires Dominic Badguy as a manager. Clearly evil, Dominic is in cahoots with criminal mastermind Constantine, a Russian frog who is Kermit’s double except for a mole above his lip. Constantine breaks out of a Russian prison camp, and Kermit is abducted and sent to the camp in his place. Constantine slips into Kermit’s role with the Muppets, none of whom seem to wonder about his accent. The bad guys intend to use the Muppets tour as a cover to steal works of art.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Kids 10 and younger may find the funny-to-adults portrayal of a Siberian prison camp a tad grim, the look of its human prisoners and the high “wall” on which those who misbehave are stuck a tad scary and bizarre. Constantine could creep out under-10s who want Kermit to be Kermit. Action sequences, including images of exploding Muppets, look slightly more real than you might expect.
God’s Not Dead (PG). A strongly Christian film with engaging characters, “God’s Not Dead” will likely appeal to teens who already believe. For the broader audience, it’s better for high-schoolers because they may be more ready to ponder the complex ideas it presents. Characters debate intelligent design vs. evolution; the big bang vs. Genesis. The arguments, however, feel abridged. Non-believing characters are portrayed as self-absorbed and mean. In the central story, an atheist professor of philosophy demands that his students declare in writing that God is dead. When Josh, a freshman and a devout Christian, refuses to do this, the professor challenges him to convince the class otherwise. Woven around Josh’s story are subplots about the professor’s girlfriend, whose faith angers him; a local pastor who feels he not doing enough; a cynical reporter whose illness makes her question her non-belief; and a Muslim student at the college whose conversion to Christianity so infuriates her devout father that he strikes her, then evicts her. That last subplot, with its bald stereotyping, hurts the film.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Nothing in the film apart from that violent reaction by the girl’s father makes it inappropriate for kids in middle school, but the complexity of the ideas makes it better for older teens to consider. Some characters drink wine.
Divergent. More than a “Hunger Games” wannabe, “Divergent” (based on the first book in Veronica Roth’s young-adults trilogy) creates its own futuristic dystopia and anti-authoritarian message. Even if they’re not into the books, teens should find it wholly absorbing, with a heroine worth rooting for. It’s set in Chicago in a post-apocalyptic world. Citizens are divided into various factions based on their traits. Tris grew up in the charity-driven Abnegation faction, but when she’s tested, she shows multiple strengths and can’t be categorized. If that becomes known, she will be labeled Divergent and deemed a danger to the status quo. Keeping her results secret, she chooses the military Dauntless faction. Training is harsh and violent, but a handsome leader, Four, helps her. When the brainy Erudites make a power grab, Tris and Four must fight back.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Most of the violence is intense but not bloody. Much happens to Tris that is emotionally shattering, involving loss and grief. The not-so-subtle references to ethnic cleansing might require explanations and context for middle-schoolers. Tris and Four have a passionate kiss and lots of mild sexual tension.
Sabotage. Blood and guts fill the screen repeatedly in this so not-for-younger-than-17s parable about a team of DEA agents dehumanized by their violent interactions with the drug cartels. Director David Ayer seems unsure whether this Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle is merely an ultra-violent action flick or something more serious. Schwarzenegger plays Breacher, the grizzled leader of the DEA team. We meet the muscled and tattooed group on a raid in which they’ve arranged to steal $10 million in drug money for themselves. The plan falls apart, the money goes missing and the team is investigated. When their agency can’t prove anything, they’re allowed to go back to work, but nothing’s the same. Then team members start turning up dead.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The gore involves literal visualizations of disembowelments, body parts scattered when someone gets hit by a train, videos of torture and murder, plus more typical R-rated shootings, with brains and blood spattering. The language is highly profane and sexually crude. Characters use drugs, drink and smoke.
Horwitz is a freelance writer.