Parents’ Guide to recent films
From the truly silly to the sublime describes the current crop of movies for young audiences. Most of these films are for older kids, and some, especially Into the West and King of the Hill, deal with serious topics: the Depression, alcoholism, want, and need. But it may be the goofy movies, such as Robin Hood: Men in Tights and Coneheads, that attract youngsters as summer fades into the school year.
What It’s About: Richard Dreyfuss and Emilio Estevez are back. Will Kids Want to Watch It? References to hip teen icons (e.g., Ren & Stimpy) aside, this sequel is geared toward adults. An assistant district attorney (Rosie O’Donnell) and her dog join the partners, shifting the focus to marriage and family. MPAA: PG-13. Sex/Nudity: None. Drugs/Alcohol: Drinks before dinner. Violence/Scariness: A house explodes, killing three agents; a homeless man shoots the person who killed his friend; a police shootout; a man on fire. Profanities: About 17. Mature Themes: A dog is woman’s best friend. Appropriate Ages: 13 and up.
What It’s About: Saturday Night Live‘s alien family moves to Paramus, N.J., and makes a point of trying to fit in. Will Kids Want to Watch It? The idea that worked so well in TV sketches starts to wear thin in feature length, but Dan Aykroyd and Jane Curtin are as charming as ever in the roles they made famous, and teens will appreciate the Coneheads’ unique way with words (to them, the mall is an ”enclosed retail compound” and a pizza is a ”starch disk”). MPAA: PG. Sex/Nudity: Bare male butts in a locker room, and some smarmy talk about ”honing.” Drugs/Alcohol: None. Violence/Scariness: Various body parts go flying in a battle with a monstrous Garthok. Profanities: In our language, just one. Mature Themes: Teenagers are alien creatures in any culture; the currents of love between kids and their parental units are infinite. Appropriate Ages: 10 and up.
What It’s About: Three evil witches (Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy, Sarah Jessica Parker) return to Salem, Mass., for revenge 300 years after being hanged for their crimes. Will Kids Want to Watch It? Despite its star power, this movie is no treat. The characters are too meanspirited and the jokes are just not funny enough. Bette Midler is so repulsive-looking, the trick is trying to concentrate on anything else. MPAA: PG. Sex/Nudity: None. Drugs/Alcohol: None. Violence/Scariness: Too intense for the little ones, it’s every kid’s Halloween nightmare come true. A corpse loses his head, the witches plot to eat the children, and there’s a lot of talk about death, spirits, and souls. Profanities: Six. Mature Themes: History repeats itself; sexual restraint can pay off. Appropriate Ages: 8 and up.
INTO THE WEST
What It’s About: Two Irish boys (Rory Conroy and Ciaran Fitzgerald) become contemporary cowboys when they go on the lam to protect a mystical horse. Will Kids Want to Watch It? Lovely and often poignant, palominos couldn’t drag most kids to this foreign-sounding equestrian Free Willy. The Irish accents are a bit heavy and the tone too somber to keep kids interested. MPAA: PG. Sex/Nudity: None. Drugs/Alcohol: The boys’ father (Gabriel Byrne) may be an alcoholic. Violence/Scariness: Younger kids will be upset when the authorities try to shoot the horse, and when the kids visit their mother’s grave. Profanities: About five. Mature Themes: Sometimes you have to say goodbye. Appropriate Ages: 12 and up.
KING OF THE HILL
What It’s About: The Depression, through the eyes of 12-year-old Aaron Kurlander (Jesse Bradford). Will Kids Want to Watch It? Aaron and his buddy Lester (Adrien Brody) are fast-thinking, appealing characters who keep the film moving despite its literally depressing subject matter. Junior high schoolers should see it with their grandparents; it’s sure to inspire worthwhile discussion. MPAA: PG-13. Sex/Nudity: None. Drugs/ Alcohol: Aaron delivers liquor in a brown bag to one of his neighbors. Violence/Scariness: A neighbor commits suicide. Also, there’s a heartbreaking scene where a starving Aaron cuts out pictures of food from a magazine, arranges them on a plate, and eats them. Profanities: Nine. Mature Themes: Appreciate what you have; when money is scarce, resources like ingenuity and imagination can help you survive. Appropriate Ages: 12 and up.
What It’s About: Justice (Janet Jackson), a young hairdresser/poet, tries to cope with life in South Central Los Angeles after her boyfriend is murdered. Will Kids Want to Watch It? Absolutely — Jackson and leading man Tupac Shakur (Lucky) are charismatic, and there’s lots of humor despite the grim realities of life in the ‘hood. Although the language is pretty rough, there are worse role models than Justice, a strong survivor who demands respect for black women. The words of Maya Angelou (the poet who read at the Inauguration), which Jackson reads in a voice-over, just may show teens the power of self-expression through words rather than weapons. MPAA: R. Sex/Nudity: More talk than action. Drugs/Alcohol: A prostitute freebases in front of her two young children. Violence/Scariness: Justice’s boyfriend is shot in the head while sitting next to her; her new boyfriend’s cousin is killed. Profanities: Into the triple digits after 45 minutes. Mature Themes: Nobody can make it alone; there can be happy endings even in a seemingly hopeless world. Appropriate Ages: 15 and up.
ROBIN HOOD: MEN IN TIGHTS
What It’s About: Mel Brooks’ warped send-up of the gang from Sherwood Forest. Will Kids Want to Watch It? It’s very punny, and although kids may not get many of the parody references, they’ll probably love the slapstick and sight gags. MPAA: PG-13. Sex/Nudity: Much talk of Maid Marian’s chastity belt; a blind servant reads Playboy in braille. Drugs/Alcohol: The Merry Men join Rabbi Tuckman (Mel Brooks) for a drink of sacramental wine. Violence/Scariness: Medieval mayhem with swords, daggers, bows and arrows. Profanities: 11. Mature Themes: Good guys, even very silly ones, often do win. Appropriate Ages: 13 and up.
THE SECRET GARDEN
What It’s About: Mary (Kate Maberly), a 10-year-old orphan, discovers happiness when she brings a neglected garden back to life. Will Kids Want to Watch It? It’s sweet, beautifully photographed and lyrical — in other words, not a ”buzz” film in the playground. Though the musical did well on Broadway, it’s hard to imagine today’s kids getting too excited about a garden, secret or not. MPAA: G. Sex/Nudity: None. Drugs/Alcohol: None. Violence/Scariness: Mary’s parents are killed in an earthquake (not a plague, as in the book); Colin (Heydon Prowse), a bedridden 10-year-old, discusses the doctor’s belief that he’s going to die. Profanities: None. Mature Themes: All living things need to nurture and be nurtured; overprotectiveness can be as harmful to a child as neglect. Appropriate Ages: 10 to 13.
SO I MARRIED AN AXE MURDERER
What It’s About: When bachelor Charlie (Mike Myers) takes the plunge with a beautiful butcher (Nancy Travis), he fears he may become dead meat. Will Kids Want to Watch It? This is too much a romantic comedy. MPAA: PG-13. Sex/Nudity: Two shots of Myers’ bare butt. Drugs/Alcohol: Charlie’s father (also Myers) gets drunk on Scottish beer. Violence/Scariness: Myers is chased by an axe murderer. Profanities: About 14. Mature Themes: Never assume anything. Appropriate Ages: 12 and up.