Mirror Mirror. Julia Roberts has fun playing an evil Queen in this often humorous, yet rather misshapen re-imagining of the classic Brothers Grimm tale “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” The laughs come pretty far apart, yet kids 8 and older will probably like the tongue-in-cheek approach and appreciate the more active role this Snow White (Lily Collins) takes in her own fate. It is the nasty Queen herself who narrates the tale, complete with sarcastic asides, and who communes through her mirror with a magic alter ego. The dialogue is a jarring mix of modern slang and fairy-tale speak, and the narrative makes little sense, with whole, illogical scenes that seem dropped in by helicopter. Yet somehow it still manages to be a bit of a lark.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The violence features sword and dagger fights, fisticuffs and other mayhem, but is PG-bloodless and involves more property damage than anything. Some under-8s may be scared when the Queen’s magical alter ego unleashes giant marionettes to destroy the little men’s forest hideout. The dragon-like “beast” that lurks in the woods proves to be mostly bluster but may frighten under-8s when it appears near the end. The Queen’s beauty ritual includes a facial with bird poop, and she uses bees, leeches and other yucky stuff. The film features lots of mild sexual innuendo, such as references to the prince’s shirtless physique. One of the little men wants to “get to know” Snow White better, and says it with a bit of a leer. Much of this could go over kids’ heads.
October Baby. Themes of late-term abortion and emotional upheaval probably make this movie better fare for high-schoolers, despite the PG-13 rating. College student Hannah has many health issues. After she collapses, her adoptive parents feel compelled to tell her the story of her birth: She was born prematurely after a botched late-term abortion. The distraught Hannah heads out on a road trip with friends to try to find her birth mother. A product of the growing Christian-themed film industry, “October Baby” is solidly acted, and its message, while far from subtle, is delivered without bombast and with a sense of forgiveness. High-schoolers looking for a full debate about reproductive choice, however, will have to look beyond this movie.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Nothing graphic is shown, but there is a description of a botched late-term abortion and then an emergency premature birth. We never see Hannah and her friends drink or doing anything sexual, but there is brief comic discussion about getting drunk and some talk about Hannah being a virgin.
The Hunger Games. Even teens who haven’t read Suzanne Collins’s popular trilogy will be gripped by this arresting film adaptation of the first book. Despite the bravery and selflessness of Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark, however, the film has a dark view of human behavior and of the future, which some younger teens — and certainly preteens — might have trouble processing. Katniss lives in District 12 of Panem. Her father died in a mine explosion. Every year, as punishment for a long-ago rebellion, the Capitol requires each district to contribute two teenagers, or “tributes,” to take part in the Hunger Games, a fight to the death in which only one can win. When Katniss’s little sister is chosen in the lottery, Katniss volunteers to take her place. Peeta, the son of a local baker, becomes District 12’s second “tribute.” The competitors are let loose in a woodland battlefield, and their actions are broadcast on TV.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The violence is quite understated, but we do see bloody, painful-looking wounds. The young tributes fight and kill one another with daggers, spears, arrows and even land mines. We see a former winner holding the bloody brick he used to kill a rival. Katniss causes a huge wasps’ nest to fall on a group of rivals. We see multiple dead bodies of teens. Katniss escapes a forest fire. The film includes rare, mild profanity and negligible sexual innuendo. A theme of loss runs throughout.
The Kid With a Bike (Unrated). Belgian filmmaker siblings Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne have created an extraordinary portrait of a lonely pre-adolescent boy. In French with English subtitles, it contains little except brief profanity that would warrant a mild R, but it is emotionally raw and best aimed at high-schoolers and college-age kids interested in international filmmaking. Cyril lives in a boarding school/orphanage where the teachers are kind, but he is a handful, insistent on finding his absent father and the bike he gave him. When Cyril learns that his father moved away and sold the bike, he runs from his teachers and into a doctor’s waiting room, where he puts his arms tightly around a random patient, Samantha, who feels a deep, instant empathy for him. She tracks down the bike, buys it back and agrees to be his weekend foster parent. But life does not go smoothly.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The movie contains no graphic violence, but there are disturbing scenes when Cyril takes part in a crime that involves hitting robbery victims with a bat. (They are not seriously injured.) In another scene, he tries to scratch and hurt himself. He also bites people. A teen hoodlum smokes cigarettes, uses midrange profanity and talks about dealing drugs.
Boy (Unrated). Set in a rural Maori community in 1984 New Zealand, this is about an 11-year-old named Boy, who has thought of his absent dad, Alamein (writer-director Taika Waititi), as a sort of hero. In fact, he’s a petty thief who’s been in jail. Alamein and his hapless gang of two show up at Boy’s house. The men, who behave like overgrown delinquents, take over the house and the lives of Boy, his brother, cousins and friends. There’s a lot of comedy, but the sense that Boy is learning that his dad is a pretty useless guy feels more tragic than funny. You do get the sense, though, that Boy could well overcome his childhood.
THE BOTTOM LINE: While unrated, “Boy” would probably warrant an R. There are flashback scenes with bloodied sheets that imply his mother died giving birth. Adults drink a lot and smoke marijuana, and the kids are recruited to grow it. The dialogue includes barnyard profanity and frequent use of the F-word. There is mild and occasionally crude sexual innuendo. In Boy’s imagination, he sees his dad as an outlaw hero, breaking out of prison and gouging the eye of a prison guard (spurting blood). Boy imagines other outlandish instances of mayhem, and his pet goat is killed by a car.
21 Jump Street. Teens 17 and older might not know the 1987-91 television series that sent Johnny Depp on the road to stardom; however, they’ll probably be carried along by the high energy of this hilarious update. The film is too foully profane for under-17s. The nerdy Schmidt and the handsome, brainless Jenko were opposites in high school. They’re now police officers assigned to a special unit run by a profane captain who sends them undercover into a high school to find the source of a new drug.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The dialogue is unceasingly profane, and the sexual slang and innuendo, highly explicit. The movie has at least one sexual scene. Scenes of gun violence, car chases and explosions do not result in graphic injuries. There is toilet humor.
Horwitz is a freelance writer.