Planes: Fire & Rescue (PG). The adventures of Dusty Crophopper, the little single-engine crop duster that could, continue in this surprisingly intense 3-D animated sequel. Kids under 6 could find it quite scary, despite the goofy humor between the dangerous bits. (Also, preschoolers talked and fidgeted quite a lot at a preview screening attended by the Family Filmgoer.) Now a celebrity after his around-the-world race, Dusty is back at PropWash Junction. His engine inexplicably stalls one night and he nearly crashes. Coming in for an emergency landing, he clips a fuel storage tank, which catches fire. The air field’s rickety old fire truck, Mayday, can’t put out the blaze, so the planes, trucks and forklifts tip over the airport’s water tower to squelch the blaze. The little airport is closed, pending re-certification of its firefighting capability. Dusty learns that he stalled because his old gearbox failed and can’t be replaced. If he flies too fast again, he could crash. It’s presented like a terminal illness. He decides to study firefighting at Piston Peak, a national park, where he can train with Mayday’s old pal, Blade Ranger. Dusty doesn’t tell Blade about his gearbox issue. When a really bad fire threatens the park and its fancy lodge — which the pompous park superintendent refuses to evacuate — Dusty risks everything to help.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Dusty nearly crashes several times in scenes that can feel quite scary, especially in 3-D. The forest fires look very dangerous and Dusty and the other firefighting planes, trucks and forklifts must go through black smoke filled with sparks. Dusty’s gearbox trouble gives the film a sense of mortality that could unsettle the youngest kids. Some of the dialogue includes mild sexual innuendo that little children won't get.
Earth to Echo (PG). A big, happy surprise from start to finish, “Earth to Echo” should delight kids 7 and older. One of the preteen heroes, Tuck, narrates and records the whole adventure on video. He and his best friends — Alex, a sensitive foster kid, and Munch, a sweet OCD-ish hoarder — will soon be separated. Their families must move because a new highway will level their Nevada subdivision. On their last night together, the boys tell little lies to their folks and set off into the desert on their bikes. They intend to follow a map that has popped up on their weirdly malfunctioning cellphones. The map leads to a tiny, beeping robotic creature from space. It looks like a cute clockwork owl, and they name it Echo. Following its beeped “yes” and “no” instructions, they take it to a barn, a pawnshop and a biker bar, where it magnetically grabs parts to fix itself. Grown-up government types are hunting for Echo, too, and won’t let the kids get in their way.
THE BOTTOM LINE: There are threatening adults, car and bike chases and scenes in which Echo appears to be dying. One joke involves mild sexual innuendo.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. This sequel depicts tremendous violence. It stays barely within the PG-13 range by cutting back on close-ups of blood and guts and by keeping profanity and sexual innuendo to a minimum. Even so, more than a few middle-schoolers might find it too harrowing, especially in 3-D. High school fans of brainier sci-fi action flicks will probably be hooked. Ten years after the ape revolt that ended “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” most of humankind has been wiped out by “simian flu,” a virus concocted by human scientists. The chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans that escaped bondage have settled in Muir Woods near San Francisco, led by their benevolent chimp hero, Caesar. They clash in the city with human survivors who want to reactivate a hydro-electric dam. Mistrust and vengeful renegades on both sides make it impossible for Caesar and the human peacemaker, Malcolm, to avert war.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Battles between apes and humans involve tremendous warlike gunplay, with many deaths of humans and animals depicted. Inter-species prejudice and grief over lost loved ones are key themes.
Boyhood. Richard Linklater’s film ought to fully engage thoughtful high-schoolers 16 and older. “Boyhood” is a fictional story shot over a 12-year period with the same cast; you watch the kids grow up and the parents age. At its center is Mason, whom we meet as a quiet, sad little boy. His divorced mother works and attends college. His estranged father finally returns to Texas from Alaska to be near Mason and his older sister, Samantha. Mom marries a college professor who seems nice, but becomes an angry alcoholic who hits Mom and threatens the kids. She barely gets them out of that situation in time. Mason keeps his feelings close to the chest, but grows into a counter-cultural teen with a gift for photography.
THE BOTTOM LINE: There is a lot of strong profanity, including the F-word and crude sexual slang. Adults and teens are shown drinking. Mason smokes pot.
The Purge: Anarchy. The nightmare vision of an American class war in the near future continues in this grim and unsubtle but arresting sequel, which takes place one year after the events in “The Purge.” The violence is loud and bloody, but not graphically gory. The film is fine for high-schoolers with strong stomachs for screen mayhem. The wealthy and powerful cull the poor in an annual, government-sanctioned 12-hour siege of legal murder called the Purge. Eva, a waitress, learns that her ailing father has sold himself to be murdered by a rich family so that Eva and her adult daughter, Cali, can receive a large bonus. Masked purgers break in and abduct Eva and Cali. Sergeant, a vigilante with a secret agenda, rescues them, along with a bickering bourgeois couple stranded on the streets.
The bottom line: The violence features gun battles with bloodied victims and less graphic images of people beaten, hacked with machetes and strangled. The script includes midrange and occasionally stronger profanity and some sexual innuendo.
Wish I Was Here. Mature high-schoolers interested in spiritual matters, the arts and other weighty issues might like “Wish I Was Here” a lot, despite its sticky sentimental lapses. Aidan (writer-director Zach Braff) is a struggling actor in Los Angeles, caught in a cycle of auditions and rejections. His wife, Sarah, supports the family with a desk job, sharing a cubicle with a guy who sexually harasses her. Aidan’s father, Gabe, has been paying tuition for Aidan’s kids to attend private school, but Gabe’s cancer has returned and he needs his money to pay for treatment. The kids must switch to public school or be home-schooled. The film takes the family on a bumpy path to reconciliation.
The bottom line: Strong profanity weaves through the script, as well as occasional crude, sexual language. There are a couple of sexual situations depicted, one with backview nudity, both pretty explicit.
Horwitz is a freelance writer.