A parents’ guide to entertainment
You don’t have to be a grinch to suspect there might be more than sugerplums in some of the new holiday-season movies and videos. What about that ”feel-good” film in which a famous child star buys the farm? Or the video that starts with a boy watching his father die in a fire? With ”Forewarned is forearmed” as our motto, here’s Entertainment Weekly‘s holiday-release Parents Guide.
The Addams Family
What It’s About: They’re creepy and they’re kooky. Unfortunately, the story line is ooky. The family gets conned by a fake Fester but refuses to cry uncle.
Will Kids Want to Watch It? With ghoul-ee. The knowingly gruesome humor is aimed right at the same part of a child’s brain that appreciates the Garbage Pail Kids.
Violence/Scariness: Gomez and his lawyer indulge in a playful sword fight; Wednesday beheads a doll on a guillotine; another sword fight results in a comic amputation that spurts fake blood all over everyone; two people fall into a grave. Generally macabre tone inverts all-American wholesomeness, and may disturb oversensitive kids (more likely their parents).
Mature Themes: It’s okay to follow a different drummer, especially if he’s dead.
All I Want For Christmas
What It’s About: A young girl asks a department-store Santa Claus to get her divorced parents back together. Meanwhile, her older brother has a plan of his own.
Will Kids Want to Watch It? Ho yeah. It’s about Christmas, it’s about kids.
Violence/Scariness: Comic choir fight; mom’s boyfriend gets locked in an ice cream truck.
Profanity: If ”sucks” is still a curse, there’s one offensive word.
Mature Themes: How divorce can affect children; the importance of little kids not wandering off alone.
An American Tail: Fievel Goes West
What It’s About: Steven Spielberg’s Fievel Mousekewitz heeds the credo ”Go west, young mouse.” Once there, though, he discovers that the cunning cowcats plan to kill all the mice. What else?
Will Kids Want to Watch It? Of course. If it’s not Beauty and the Beast, that’s only because Spielberg’s touch as an animator isn’t quite as foolproof as the Disney studio’s.
Drugs: Not even catnip.
Violence/Scariness: Evil cats terrorize mice; pack of dogs chase a cat; Fievel gets thrown off a train by a spider; there’s a big shoot-out with guns, knives, and slingshots.
Mature Themes: Spielberg may want you to think Tail says something enduring about the American spirit, but that’s hooey. This is just a good cartoon.
Beauty and the Beast
What It’s About: Once upon a time…oh, come on, you already know this one. Will Kids Want to Watch It?
Repeatedly. And parents will fight over who gets to take the children.
Violence/Scariness: The Beast is pretty scary at first meeting, though not as terrifying as the witch in Snow White. The really frightening bits are when vicious wolves attack Belle and Beast, when the creepy asylum proprietor tries to take Belle’s father away, and a final confrontation between Beast and Gaston that leads to injuries and a death.
Mature Themes: Love conquers all, the ugliness of vanity.
What It’s About: Coming-of-age comedy-drama about a small-town mortician (Dan Aykroyd), his hypochondriac daughter (Anna Chlumsky), her allergic-to-everything friend (Macaulay Culkin), and dad’s new girlfriend (Jamie Lee Curtis), a beautician whose specialty is putting blue eye shadow on dead people.
Will Kids Want to Watch It? Of course they will — Macaulay Culkin’s the Mel Gibson of the Tinkertoy set. But there are three things you need to know: 1) Culkin’s got a supporting role; Chlumsky has most of the screen time; 2) Lighthearted as it tries to be, this movie is about death and dying; 3) Mack dies. They even show him laid out in a coffin. Got it? Okay, the ball’s in your court.
Violence/Scariness: Two dead bodies on a table, two bodies in open caskets, a punch in the stomach, a child attacked by bees and dying from stings.
Profanity: Five harsh words used.
Mature Themes: The themes here — mortality, coming to terms with death, moving on with one’s life — are worth discussing with your children. And if they know what they’re getting into ahead of time, they’ll probably deal with it just fine.
What It’s About: Things heat up between two firemen brothers who battle fire, arsonists, political corruption, and each other.
Will Kids Want to Watch It? Firemen are bona fide idols to young boys, but the rough language and violence may concern parents. If you have any doubts, prescreen (and consider fast-forwarding past) the first scene, in which a little boy watches his father die in a blaze.
Sex/Nudity: Naked male butts, two love-making scenes in which little is shown.
Violence/ Scariness: Graphic presentations of fire and the deaths and injuries that can result; opening scene cited above may terrify young children. There are five explosions, four of them fatal; four charred bodies and two bloodied ones (including one impaled on a metal fence); a lot of fistfights; a fireman catches on fire; a fire truck crashes.
Profanity: More than 80 obscenities.
Mature Themes: Arson, murder, political corruption.
What It’s About: Very funny film about three almost-40 buddies who try to ”find their smiles” by going on a two-week cattle drive.
Will Kids Want to Watch It? Big boys pretending to be cowboys should appeal to young boys who pretend to be cowboys. It’s a lot more talky and touchy-feely than you might expect, however.
Sex/Nudity: Much discussion by the buddies about sex, a lot of talk about adultery and the consequences whereof. Part of a guy’s butt sticking out; the three friends with their pants down and ice packs on their privates; a mooning shot from the cattle-drive cook. Subplot about a woman sexually harassed by sleazy cowhands.
Violence/Scariness: Several people get hooked by bulls’ horns; one of the sleazy cowhands is lassoed around the throat, then has a knife thrown at him; a cow is put out of her misery after a fairly graphic calf-birth scene; someone dies in his sleep (peacefully); there’s some fighting with the cow-hands and a hairy river-rescue scene at the very end.
Profanity: About 38 offensive words heard on the range. Mature Themes: Your standard mid-life crises: infidelity, ennui, hair loss.
Defending Your Life
What It’s About: Albert Brooks dies and winds up in Toronto-like Judgment City, where he must defend his life in order to decide whether he moves ahead or must return to earth.
Will Kids Want to Watch It? Forget it. Brooks’ unique humor is quiet, acerbic, and satirical, qualities most kids won’t start to appreciate until they’re in junior high.
Violence/Scariness: Well, the hero dies in the first two minutes-that may throw a few children off. There’s a car crash (never actually shown), a scene of schoolyard humiliation by a bully that may strike too close to home, and a snowmobile accident.
Profanity: Three curse words.
Mature Themes: Actually, the message here — dealing with one’s fears — is one that both kids and parents would benefit from.
Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
What It’s About: Kevin Costner tries to portray Robin of Locksley, who after returning home from the Crusades organizes an army of merry men to fight the evil and mightily eccentric Sheriff of Nottingham.
Will Kids Want to Watch It? Kevin Costner, sword fights, bows and arrows, big battle scenes, and Alan Rickman hamming it up like there’s no tomorrow: Kids will love it. This may not be the most gallant of all Robin Hoods, but they won’t care.
MPAA: PG-13. Sex/Nudity: A rear shot of a naked man.
Drugs: None, if you don’t count the witch’s icky potions.
Violence/ Scariness: There are at least 40 killings by fire, arrows, sword, and spear, not to mention: a hand and an arm getting chopped off, a servant’s eyes burned out (not shown), a man strung up in a cage, Marian kneeing Robin in the crotch, Robin slicing his own hand with a knife, a horse shot by an arrow, Robin cutting the Sheriff’s face, villages set on fire, an arrow shot through a hand, explosions, a mass hanging, someone thrown out of a window, a climactic sword fight between Robin and the Sheriff, a woman impaled, a man stabbed. In other words, a real family film.
Profanity: Three harsh words.
Mature Themes: Good versus evil, avenging one’s family, taking on responsibility for others.
What It’s About: This great Stanley Kubrick epic has Kirk Douglas playing the gladiator slave who leads an army of slaves against Rome. Bold move.
Will Kids Want to Watch It? Only sword-wielding boys. The love angle may gag them, but there’s plenty of action to hold their interest.
MPAA: PG- 13.
Sex/Nudity: Restored video version has scene in which Laurence Olivier, as a decadent Roman, shows a yen for Tony Curtis. It’ll probably go right over kids’ heads, though.
Violence/Scariness: Spartacus bites a Roman soldier; there are two fights to the death; a dead body is hung from the rafters; a man is drowned in a vat of soup. There is a slave revolt and a huge battle where men are set on fire and stabbed-dozens are shown being killed, and we see hundreds of dead bodies in the aftermath; a Roman strikes Spartacus; Spartacus spits on him; a final crucifixion.
Mature Themes: Inhumanity of slavery, fighting for freedom.