Blunt is a delight in sweet, nostalgic, toe-tapping sequel.
“Mary Poppins Returns,” starring Emily Blunt as everyone’s favorite magical nanny, and Lin-Manuel Miranda as her Cockney lamplighter pal, is a sequel to “Mary Poppins,” the Oscar-winning 1964 classic. As she did before, the flying, singing, lesson-imparting Mary arrives to help the Banks children — this time, the three kids of a now-grown-up Michael, whose wife died a year before the movie starts (he and the children speak and sing about missing her) and whose family home is in danger of being repossessed. The sequel departs from the original by adding a clear villain and a few scenes of peril/suspense (including a mostly animated but still tense chase through a dark woods), although nothing ever gets too scary. But it follows in the original’s footsteps with its catchy songs and strong messages about imagination, gratitude, empathy, kindness, looking past the surface and — of course — being close to your family and believing in yourself. (130 minutes)
Better-than-expected “Transformers” prequel is big on action.
“Bumblebee” is a “Transformers” universe prequel that’s set in 1987 and stars Hailee Steinfeld as Charlie, a gear-head teenager who finds a yellow VW Bug that’s actually the titular Autobot. This tween-friendly adventure features slightly less violence, language and sex (the romance is played down and positively chaste) than its predecessors. That said, there are still big fight scenes between Transformers and between Transformers and humans; weapons are used (one reduces humans into a clear goo), there’s explosive destruction and Bumblebee is tortured. Bad language includes a few uses of “damn” and “s---”; refreshingly for the series, there are no crass or sexist jokes. Charlie is a surprisingly nuanced and courageous lead character, and the movie has clear themes of teamwork and friendship. (113 minutes)
Underwater origin story has lots of comic-book action.
“Aquaman” is a predictable but enjoyable DC/Justice League adventure about everyone’s favorite underwater superhero (Jason Momoa). Arthur Curry may be heir to the Atlantean throne, but he’d rather live among the surface dwellers — until his half brother, King Orm (Patrick Wilson), plots a war against humanity and Arthur is forced to fight. And fight he does: The biggest issue here is the movie’s frequent comic-book-style violence; it’s largely bloodless, but characters are beaten, impaled and eaten by monsters, and weapons (including blasters and tridents) are used. Bad language is infrequent but includes “a--,” “s---” and “D---”; adult characters also kiss and drink (once to excess). Themes touch on the value of courage and perseverance, as well as the importance of loyalty and responsibility. Amber Heard, Nicole Kidman, Willem Dafoe and Dolph Lundgren co-star. (139 minutes)
Enchanting, affecting holiday tale has mild suspense.
“Angela’s Christmas” is a short animated movie based on “Angela and the Baby Jesus,” the only children’s book written by “Angela’s Ashes” author Frank McCourt. The film is set in Limerick, Ireland, in 1914 and recounts an event in the life of McCourt’s mother just before her sixth birthday. It tells a sweet, poignant and ultimately heartwarming tale about family, community, and a young girl’s empathy and resourcefulness. There are a few mildly tense moments as Angela hides from congregants in her church, then feels unsettled by shadows in a dark alley. Later she’s chased by a policeman and momentarily scared of being sent to jail. Angela and her brother call each other names (“maggot”) and scuffle; a few hits and kicks are landed, but the sequence ends in play. A short scene takes place in a bar, where men are drinking. Inspiring and funny, with gentle but important messages, the movie is highly recommended for all but the youngest or most sensitive kids, who might find even mild suspense unsettling. (30 minutes)
Available via Netflix streaming.
Common Sense Media helps families make smart media choices. Go to commonsensemedia.org for age-based and educational ratings and reviews for movies, games, apps, TV shows, websites and books.