Imaginative but intense adventure deals with worry and fear.
“Wonder Park” is an animated adventure about an imaginative girl named June (voiced by Brianna Denski), who’s spent years dreaming up a magical amusement park named Wonderland with her mom (Jennifer Garner). Their fancies become reality when June stumbles across a run-down version of the park deep in the woods and must help its animal custodians save it from destruction. As a result, she and her friends battle against hordes of weapons-wielding “chimpanzombies” (which look cute but have murderous intentions) and try to protect the park from getting broken apart and sucked into scary purple clouds of darkness. So you can expect plenty of action (including explosions and peril), as well as the looming presence of worry and sadness, since June is dealing with the fact that her mom has a serious illness. There are a couple of flirty comments (“I burn for you, baby!”) and one quick kiss; language is limited to one “oh, jeez” and a couple of swearing stand-ins, like “son of a woodchuck.” The film celebrates imagination, curiosity and perseverance, and it underlines the importance of not letting fear stop you from being yourself and doing what you love. (93 minutes)
Sparkling book adaptation has great characters, some scares.
“Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase” is based on a classic 1930 Nancy Drew mystery book and is aimed at tweens and young teens. Although the story involves a politically motivated kidnapping and a supposedly haunted house, the scariest moment is during what turns out to be a dream sequence, when a creepy mask is pulled away to reveal a blank void. A man is kidnapped and threatened with death by gun-wielding abductors. A young teen talks briefly about her mother, who has died; another is cyberbullied, and she and her friends respond in kind — facing consequences/punishment as a result. Teen girls are chased, threatened and briefly grabbed by adults; one character stabs another in the hand; and, after a villain is given a hallucinogenic substance, he sees frightening visions. Characters talk about boyfriends/girlfriends, dating and crushes, and a male character gives Nancy (Sophia Lillis) loaded glances and special attention. An older character with a past as a burlesque dancer is depicted as still sexual; she refers to a long list of “gentlemen callers.” Language is mild but includes “damning,” “oh my God,” “loser,” “butt,” “freaking,” etc. Positive messages include courage and teamwork, and strong role models (mostly female) are at the center of the action. (89 minutes)
Strong acting saves predictable, sentimental love story.
“Five Feet Apart” is based on the best-selling YA novel about Will (Cole Sprouse) and Stella (Haley Lu Richardson), two hospitalized 17-year-olds with cystic fibrosis who fall in love. Since the guideline for CF patients is that they should stay a minimum of six feet apart from each other due to the danger of cross-infection, the title refers to the one foot the pair “take back” to be a tiny bit closer as their love story develops. Language isn’t frequent but includes a use of “f---ing,” plus “s---,” “bulls---,” “a--hole,” etc., and a few references to sex (or lack thereof). Will and Stella aren’t supposed to touch, much less kiss (saliva exchange would be deadly, as one of them has a serious bacterial infection), so there’s no sex, although they do undress down to their underwear in one romantic scene. The movie, which had a CF consultant, has been divisive within the CF community; some members are happy to see more awareness for the disease, which affects about 30,000 in the United States, and others worry that the movie romanticizes the illness or misleads able-bodied audiences. Ultimately, the story promotes treasuring those closest to you and has themes of perseverance and empathy. (115 minutes)
Dark, disconnected but smart alien invasion movie.
“Captive State” is an alien-invasion movie set in a future Chicago. Some humans try to cooperate with the conquering aliens, while others try to rebel; there’s a very complex plan at the heart of the story. Violence is the biggest issue: Humans are killed, both vaporized by aliens and shot by guns. There are explosions, blood splatters, gory surgeries, gross alien effects, cyanide pills and lots of chaos and stress. Language includes “s---.” One character is said to be a kind of prostitute (she’s shown wearing a bra), a sex act is briefly visible on a screen, and characters kiss and talk about sex. Characters smoke cigarettes and, in one sequence, snort cocaine. The movie is more about its own big ideas than about characters or emotions, but it’s smart enough that it should please most teen and adult sci-fi fans. John Goodman and Vera Farmiga co-star. (109 minutes)
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