Fun, feel-good animated musical offers positive messages.
“Smallfoot” is a charming animated musical adventure about a group of yetis who prove the existence of humans. Starring the voices of Channing Tatum, Zendaya, Common, James Corden and more, the movie is age-appropriate for younger viewers but does have a lot of physical/slapstick comedy (including many falls from great heights, all of which are survived) and a couple of cases in which dart guns with sedatives are shot. A plane crashes, and a flashback story shows cruelty/weapons use based on hate and fear. People and yetis also show fear and are pursued — sometimes with tension and destruction of property — but no one is seriously hurt. Two characters flirt a little bit, a minor character has a drink at a bar, and there’s infrequent use of words like “crap,” “stupid” and “sucks.” The movie strongly promotes the ideas of appreciating traditions but questioning the status quo, thinking outside the box, staying true to your ideals and giving those unlike you a chance — in other words, curiosity, communication and integrity. (96 minutes)
Compelling, entertaining documentary about teen science geniuses.
“Science Fair” is a fascinating, inspiring documentary about teens competing in the prestigious Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF), which is held each year; more than 70 nations are represented by 1,800 entrants. Like “Inventing Tomorrow” and “Spellbound,” the movie explores the backstories of a select group of student competitors, from affluent teens at a science-focused high school to a shy girl from South Dakota to two Brazilian teens from a poor rural village. The movie is fine for middle-elementary-aged kids and up; younger ones may not understand the science described and might find a brief description of microcephaly, with footage of an afflicted baby, disturbing. It’s likely to inspire science-loving students to find ways to think big, pursue research and make ISEF a goal for their STEM interests. There are also strong themes of curiosity, communication, perseverance and teamwork. (90 minutes)
Crude, profanity-heavy comedy also offers real lessons.
“Night School” is a racy comedy written and produced by Kevin Hart, who stars alongside Tiffany Haddish. Both are known and loved for their inappropriate humor, which is in full effect here. Viewers may well laugh at the movie’s shock-value humor, but it frequently crosses into violence, sexually suggestive comments and salty language. A married woman comes on to an educator; there are jokes about anal sex (not said explicitly, but implied), pubic hair, prison rape and more; and characters frequently talk about sex and sex-related topics. Violent scenes (all bloodless) show an explosion, beatings/punches, someone falling from a great height and more. Frequent strong language includes referring to women and children as “bitches” and black characters using the “n” word (there’s also one use of “f---”). Characters drink champagne, and a teen is caught with Molly. Hart’s character works at the fictitious Christian Chicken, where the employee prayer circle is the butt of a joke (lots of other real-world brand names pop up constantly). All of that said, amid the crude humor and stereotypes are messages about second chances, honesty and character. It conveys that struggling students should seek testing for learning disabilities, and that a good teacher can change a student’s life for the better. (111 minutes)
Great animation, solid messages; lots of cartoon violence.
“Next Gen” is a full-length animated feature film. Created by Chinese and Canadian filmmakers, with participation from Americans, it takes place in a futuristic city where robots play a significant role in the lives of the citizens. The story centers on the relationship between a 12-year-old girl and an AI (Artificial Intelligence) who join to fight a mighty villain. Although relationships are at the core of the story, viewers can expect extensive cartoon mayhem — robot battles, human fighting, explosions, laser and gunfire, falls, chases, a human held captive, bullies and threats to the entire populace. Note that a quick-tempered pet erupts in angry gibberish to simulate swearing, which is then bleeped. The film also contains thoughtful messages about dealing with loss and healing. The importance of memories in each individual’s life are threaded throughout. Nearly two hours long, this simple story based on friendship, love, grief, evil and justice contains an abundance of characters and story elements. Middle grades and up, who are used to some complexity, should be able to follow it. (105 minutes)
Available via Netflix streaming.
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