REVIEW: Is ‘Fantastic Beasts’ too scary for kids? (And how violent is it?)

REVIEW: Is 'Fantastic Beasts' too scary for kids? (And how violent is it?)

Newt Scamander, a quirky-but-funny “magizoologist,” owns a suitcase like no other – a suitcase where dozens of other-worldly animal-like creatures reside.

Some are larger than a house, while others can fit in his pocket. One even is invisible. All of them, though, are mischievous, and that spells trouble during his trip to New York City when they begin escaping.

Scamander and his suitcase are at the center of the new movie Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (PG-13), which was written and produced by J.K. Rowling and is being billed as a “prequel” to the Harry Potter series, taking place in 1926 NYC.

Scamander — himself a wizard — steps off his ship into an American society that is divided between two classes of people: those who have magical powers, and those who don’t (the “non-maj”). The magical world is governed by a Magical Congress of the United States of America, and there even is a Magical Congress president. Although both classes of people seem nice enough, current law forbids them from interacting — and wizards definitely aren’t allowed to practice their magic in front of non-maj people. But don’t fear: If any plain person does see a spell, the magical world has the power to erase those memories.

Despite the powers of the wizarding world, there is a growing anti-magical sentiment among the non-maj people. That’s because weird stuff is happening. Streets are exploding and buildings collapsing. One group (the “Second Salemers”) are calling for a series of anti-witch trials, and they’re even placing posters around the city proclaiming: “No Witchcraft In America. We Need A Second Salem.”

Are Scamander’s beasts the cause of this destruction? Or is it being cause by something evil?

The Harry Potter film series was incredibly popular among children and teens, although its focus on wizardry divided Christians. I will leave that debate to others, but for now, let’s look at the content of what is sure to be a major box office hit.

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‘What’s the definition of beauty?’

‘What’s the definition of beauty?’My daughter is only four-years-old, but sometimes, I think she’s 14.

That was the case a few weeks ago, when she walked purposefully into the kitchen, sporting a pink dress, glitzy shoes and shiny fingernail polish, and asked me through a sweet smile: “Daddy, do you think I look beautiful?”

I chuckled at the situation and responded quickly, “Of course, I do!” She walked back into her room to continue her game of dress-up and I finished eating my snack, but later I began to ask myself: What am I teaching her? In other words, what is she learning about beauty?

If I’m not diligent, then she will learn all the worldly, wrong things as she grows older: that beauty is skin-deep, that worth is based on a perfect figure and the right clothes, and that her body is to be put on display like a cheap weekend sale at Walmart.

I thought about that recently when my family and I stopped at a gas station to fill up the van and to get snacks during a short road trip. There in the gas station window was the magazine rack, and there on the magazine rack were the latest “gentleman’s” magazines flaunting barely dressed models – easily seen by anyone who did not even enter the station. Such as my daughter.

But we don’t have to stop at the wrong gas station to be confronted with worldly images of beauty. We see it every Sunday during the fall, when the TV cameras switch from the football game to the cheerleaders and we’re left wondering if “thin, half-naked and blond” were the prerequisites. We’re faced with it during commercials, when Hardee’s trots out soft-porn images to try and sell us – of all things — hamburgers.

Heck, we even see it in during Disney and Pixar cartoons, which promote not immodesty but perfection. How many average-looking heroines can you remember from the most popular animated movies?

Then there’s social media. A recent Pew study found that 61 percent of teen girls — but only 44 percent of teen boys — regularly access Instagram, the picture-based platform where, essentially, only “glamour shots” are posted. As director Delaney Ruston discovered in the documentary Screenagers, Instagram and platforms like it are destroying the body image of middle school and high school girls, who feel constant pressure to look flawless for their friends and romantic interests. Continue reading

REVIEW: Is ‘Trolls’ OK for small kids? (And are there any scary parts?)

REVIEW: Is 'Trolls' OK for small kids? (And are there any scary parts?)Princess Poppy and all of her colorful troll friends living in Troll Village believe they have discovered the source of happiness: It’s singing, dancing and hugging.

Well, sort of.

The true source of happiness, they tell everyone, is internal.

“Happiness is inside you,” Poppy says. In fact, she adds, it’s inside everyone.

That’s why Poppy is always perky – to the point of being naïve about the realities and dangers of life. One of those dangers: the Bergens, the dreadful-looking creatures who live in the same forest and who believe that the source of happiness comes only by eating those cheerful trolls.

DreamWorks’ Trolls (PG) opens in theaters this weekend, and thanks to an all-star cast and partnerships with McDonald’s, General Mills, Rice Krispies Treats and Pillsbury, lots of children are likely going to want to watch it. It stars Anna Kendrick as Poppy and Justin Timberlake as her friend Branch, and also includes characters voiced by Russell Brand, Gwen Stefani and James Corden.

But is Trolls family-friendly — and is it too scary for kids? Let’s take a look. Continue reading

REVIEW: Is ‘Doctor Strange’ OK for kids? (And how scary & violent is it?)

REVIEW: Is 'Doctor Strange' OK for kids? (And how scary & violent is it?)

Perhaps you thought that the Avengers – that’s Iron Man, Captain America and their friends – were more than enough to protect Planet Earth. If so, you would be wrong.

That’s because – as we learn in the new movie Doctor Strange (PG-13) – the Avengers only protect Earth from physical threats. Superhero sorcerers protect us from mystical threats that originate from other dimensions and universes. Yes, there are multiple realities and multiple universes in the world of Marvel’s latest movie, which easily lives up to its “strange” title.

The “Dr. Strange” is Stephen Strange, a neurosurgeon who is known as much for his ego as for his world-renowned skill. His life takes a turn during a horrific car crash in which he loses full movement of his hands, and, desperate to regain his career, he travels to Nepal to find the person he was told healed a paraplegic. Strange believes he is looking for a traditional doctor, but he instead discovers a group of sorcerers who are led by a thin, bald woman known as the Ancient One. It is there that he himself becomes a sorcerer, learning to teleport from one location to another and even travel from one universe to the next time. He also figures out how to reverse time.

Strange becomes Earth’s protector against the bad sorcerer Kaecilius, who wants to destroy our planet and discover the power to have eternal life.

The Marvel superhero films have been wildly popular among children, who likely will be asking to go to this one, too. So, should mom and dad take them? Let’s find out. Continue reading

REVIEW: Rachel Scott no modern-day saint in ‘I’m Not Ashamed’

REVIEW: Rachel Scott no modern-day saint in 'I'm Not Ashamed'It would be easy to make Rachel Scott into a modern-day “evangelical saint” if filmmakers wanted to do so.

Thankfully, though, the writers and director behind the new movie I’m Not Ashamed (PG-13) did not do that – and it is far more powerful and believable for it. The movie hits theaters this weekend.

Scott was the first person killed during the Columbine High School mass shooting in 1999, and her Christian walk and testimony became the subject of several books, including the bestseller “Rachel’s Tears.”

In her final seconds on Earth Scott refused to deny Christ. When asked by one of the gunmen, “Do you still believe in God?” she reportedly responded, “You know I do” – before being shot. The morning of the shooting, she even drew a picture of two eyes shedding 13 tears – and later that day the gunmen killed 13 people. Lots of Christians consider it a prophetic drawing.

But the Rachel Scott (Masey McLain) depicted in I’m Not Ashamed is no, well, Mother Teresa. She struggles with a temptation to drink and smoke, and she desperately wants to date the cutest boy around – although he wants her for only one thing. (Don’t worry – the film remains family-friendly.) Continue reading