Rating: PG, for thematic elements, fantasy action and peril, and some suggestive material.
This is a Disneyfied, film version of the popular Stephen Sondheim musical which twists and combines several beloved fairy tales. Cinderella shares the screen with Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel and Jack of beanstalk fame, with Meryl Streep playing the witch who ties all their stories together. The forest where their paths cross is dark, gnarled and ominous — although, as the song goes, “The woods are just trees. The trees are just wood.” A lot of the heavier themes that exist in the stage production involving the younger characters and their sexual awakening have been softened here to reach a wider audience with a PG rating. The Big Bad Wolf’s big badness is implied, slightly. Overall, though, Sondheim is a lot for young viewers to take in; his melodies are complicated and his lyrics are dense. And the playfulness of the first half gives way to heavier themes of sacrifice and death in the second half. I brought my 5-year-old son to the screening with me and the main thing that scared him was the giant that appears toward the end. The witch has some frightening moments, too. This is probably best for kids around age 8 and up.
Rating: PG-13, for thematic elements and brief strong language.
Amy Adams stars as the artist Margaret Keane, whose kitschy paintings of waifs with enormous, sad eyes earned a large following in the 1960s. Tim Burton’s film follows the deception she agreed to as her husband, Walter (Christoph Waltz), took credit for her work and became a megalomaniacal celebrity. There is some language here and a tiny bit of violence: a bar brawl that’s played for laughs. Walter’s drinking increases throughout the course of the film until he becomes erratic and menacing, and at one point, he places Margaret and her teenage daughter in fiery peril in her studio. This is probably fine for kids around age 10 and up, especially those with an interest in art.
Rating: PG-13, for disturbing thematic material including violence, a suggestive moment, and brief strong language.
This is a beautifully made, powerfully acted film which provides a useful lesson about the civil rights movement. But the cruelty and closed-mindedness it shows is extremely difficult to watch, and will be way too disturbing for most young viewers. David Oyelowo stars as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as he was leading the fight for equal voting rights in the segregated South in 1965. Director Ava DuVernay vividly depicts the violent backlash these peaceful protesters endured, especially during their first attempt to march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala. The beatings many of them suffered were brutal and bloody. This is probably suitable for older tweens and up, but eventually, it’s a must-see movie for all young people.
Rating: PG-13, for war violence including intense sequences of brutality, and for brief language.
Director Angelina Jolie’s film is based on the true story of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic runner and World War II hero who lasted 47 days on a life raft after a plane crash, only to wind up in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp. The hardship he suffers on the life raft with two other men is lengthy and brutal: the starvation, dehydration and hallucinations, with the constant, lingering threat of death. But once he and his fellow soldiers arrive at the POW camp, they are subjected to repeated and merciless beatings. I’m actually sort of amazed this movie received a PG-13 rating. It’s an inspirational story of courage and perseverance but one that’s probably best suited only for mature tweens and older.