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: Is ‘Jack Reacher: Never Go Back’ family-friendly? (And is there too much violence for kids?)

REVIEW: Is 'Jack Reacher: Never Go Back' family-friendly? (And is there too much violence for kids?)If you ever decide to venture into a dark alley, late at night with bad guys all around, then you might want to take Jack Reacher with you.

Reacher is the hero in the popular book series by Lee Child and the film series starring Tom Cruise, and it seems there’s nothing he can’t escape. Sure, he might kill a few people and break a few necks along the way, but the odds are that he’s walking out alive.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (PG-13) hits theaters this weekend, bringing us the second installment in the movie series that follows a former major in the U.S. Army Military Police Corps who travels the country and constantly finds himself in the middle of trouble. But somehow, he always ends up on the right side of things.

He’s part James Bond, part Jason Bourne and part Ethan Hunt – and 100 percent testosterone.

In the newest movie, Reacher (Cruise) is framed for murder and his friend Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders) is wrongly accused of espionage, but both escape custody (thanks to Reacher) and begin trying to find the people who truly were responsible for the crimes.

It won’t be easy, though. They’re not only being chased by military police but also by the bad guys – the bad guys who actually did commit the crimes. And those bad guys not only want Reacher and Turner dead, but they’re also after a girl, 15-year-old Samantha (Danika Yarosh), who is believed to be a daughter that Reacher never knew.

There are 20 books in the Jack Reacher series, so there’s a good chance we’ll be seeing this character for many years to come on the big screen.

But is Jack Reacher: Never Go Back family-friendly? Let’s take a look. Continue reading

‘Dad, what’s wrong with her?’ (4 things to teach your kids about disabilities)

‘Dad, what’s wrong with her?’ (4 things to teach your kids about disabilities)

My oldest son was munching on French fries and looking around the restaurant, as the rest of our family finished a meal on a lazy Saturday afternoon.

His mind, though, was not on the topic of conversation. Instead, he was staring at an adjacent table, where another family was sitting.

“Dad, what’s wrong with her?”

Almost immediately, I knew what he was referencing. Sitting at the table was a woman in a wheelchair, maybe in her 20s, who was mentally disabled. Every now and then she would look our way and smile, and I would smile back, but my son – who at the time was in the second grade – did not know what to do.

“She keeps looking over here, Dad.”

My son was confused, not knowing what to think, and I was searching for answers. And I knew that this conversation would apply to every area of his life.

No matter where he goes – to school, to church and (one day) to work – he will encounter people who look different, sound different and act different. His friends might be tempted to say “she looks weird” or “he acts goofy,” but I pray he will respond with the heart of Christ, and not with the words of a bully.

After all, the entire point of the Gospel was to help those who are helpless. Sure, the core of it was Jesus saving sinners, but if we study His life on this earth, we discover He had a heart for the disabled: the leper, the blind man, the lame person. And what about the story of Zacchaeus (a despised tax collector who was so short he couldn’t see over anyone) or even Paul (who had an undefined “thorn in the flesh”)?

If my son gets this lesson right early in life, then he will have the courage to stand up for the humanity of the mentally disabled woman in the restaurant … or even the skinny, acne-prone boy in science class.

As we walked away from that restaurant, I made several points: Continue reading

REVIEW: Is ‘Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children’ too scary for kids?

REVIEW: Is 'Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children' too scary for kids?Emma is a girl who is lighter than air, and if she doesn’t wear lead shoes, she will simply float away. Bronwyn, who lives in the same house, has the strength of 10 men. Another girl, Fiona, can make plants grow in mere seconds. Then there’s Hugh, a boy who has bees living in his stomach, and Horace, who has a magical eyeball that acts as a projector, allowing him to “play” his dreams on the big screen.

Such is the life for the kids in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (PG-13), which opens this weekend and is the latest quirky movie from director Tim Burton, who also gave us Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Alice in Wonderland. But unlike those two PG-rated films, this one delivers enough creepiness and scary moments that parents might want to think twice about taking young children. (More on that in a bit.)

Miss Peregrine’s is based on the bestselling book by Ransom Riggs and follows the story of World War II-era kids who live in a children’s home because they all have peculiarities due to a recessive gene. Their headmistress is Miss Peregrine (Eva Green), who has the ability to transform into a peregrine falcon.

If all of that wasn’t weird enough, they’re also stuck in a time loop and seem destined to live forever on one date: Sept. 3, 1943 – the day Nazis bombed the house. Each night, before the bomb crashes into the home, Miss Peregrine turns her watch backwards, reversing time.

The children desire a more normal life, and they find hope when a seemingly ordinary teenage boy — Jake (Asa Butterfield) – finds the home. His grandfather, who fought in World War II, had told him stories about the house and its occupants.

No doubt, many children will be asking their parents to watch Miss Peregrine’s this weekend, but what is the appropriate age for a kid to see this one? Let’s take a look … Continue reading