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

‘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

3 lessons for kids and parents in ‘The Secret Life of Pets’

3 lessons for kids and parents in ‘The Secret Life of Pets’

Each time my young son and I walk into a movie theater, I give him a friendly reminder: Let’s look for a few lessons in the film we can learn. Most of the time after the credits roll, he’s great at rattling off a few ideas, but after we watched The Secret Life of Pets, he was stumped.

“What can we learn from that one?” I asked.

“Umm, I’m not sure,” he responded.

Perhaps that’s because he and I spent more time laughing at the movie than analyzing it. But upon reflection, there actually are several significant lessons in The Secret Life of Pets that all of us can teach our kids.

Here are three: Continue reading

4 lessons your family shouldn’t miss in ‘The BFG’

4 lessons your family shouldn’t miss in ‘The BFG’

Movies that include giants or tiny creatures can be some of the most enjoyable films on the big screen — and they often are accompanied by great life lessons for children and parents, too.

Consider, for example, the film and book Horton Hears A Who!, which included the famous phrase “a person’s a person no matter how small.” It originally was written by Dr. Seuss as a message about bigotry against Japanese people, but in recent years has been used by the pro-life cause in a powerful way.

In the biblical realm, the true story of David and Goliath displayed the power of God in the midst of a seemingly impossible situation, yet it also has been used by many pastors as a symbol of how God can slay everyday problems.

Steven Spielberg’s newest film, The BFG (PG), gives us another story about giants. It is based on the popular book by Roald Dahl and follows the exploits of a 24-foot-tall “Big Friendly Giant” (the BFG) and a 10-year-old girl named Sophie.

It is among the most family-friendly films I ever have seen and is full of lessons for children – some obvious, some subtle. Of course, this isn’t a faith-based movie in the technical sense, but as Augustine once said, all truth is God’s truth. So what can we learn? Continue reading