NEW THIS WEEK
-- A HANDSOMELY WROUGHT, THOROUGHLY ENGROSSING ADAPTATION THAT SHOULD SATISFY FANS OF THE BOOKS AND OTHER TEENS:
"THE HUNGER GAMES" PG-13 -- Even teens who haven't read Suzanne Collins' popular dystopian trilogy for young adults ("The Hunger Games," "Catching Fire" and "Mockingjay") will be gripped by this arresting film adaptation of the first book. Despite the bravery and selflessness of the young heroine Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and her co-fighter Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), the film has a dark view of human behavior and of the future, which some younger teens -- and certainly preteens -- may have trouble processing. Katniss lives in District 12 of the country of Panem. District 12, a mining sector, looks like photos of 1930s Appalachia. Katniss' father died in a mine explosion (nongraphic flashback). Panem is the nation that replaced America in a post-apocalyptic world. Its outrageously coiffed and clad rulers live in the glitzy Capitol and exercise ultra-control over Panem's 12 districts. Every year, as punishment for a long-ago rebellion, the Capitol requires each district to contribute two teenagers, or "tributes," to take part in the Hunger Games, a fight to the death in which only one teen can win. When Katniss' little sister (Willow Shields) is chosen in the lottery, Katniss volunteers to take her place. She is an expert archer. Her guy pal Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth) vows to care for her mother (Paula Malcomson) and sister. Peeta becomes District 12's second "tribute." Katniss and he travel to the Capitol, mentored by an eccentric PR person, Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), and a former winner, Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), now a cynical drunk. As they're groomed and trained for the games, Katniss and Peeta become favorites of the TV host (Stanley Tucci) covering the games. Once they and their 22 competitors are let loose in a woodland battlefield, all their actions are tracked and broadcast on TV. The agitated camera work gives the enterprise an urgency that works well. Katniss and Peeta are tested both physically and morally.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The actual violence is quite understated, but we do see bloody, painful-looking wounds on Katniss and Peeta. And you never lose track of the fact that the young "tributes" fight and kill one another with daggers, spears, arrows and even land mines. We see a former winner in a video holding the bloody brick he used to kill a rival. Katniss dispatches at least one competitor stalking her when she causes a huge wasps' nest to fall on a group of rivals. We see multiple dead bodies of teen fighters. Katniss escapes a huge forest fire. The film includes rare, mild profanity and negligible sexual innuendo. A theme of loss runs throughout.
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-- FINE FOR KIDS 6 AND OLDER:
"DR. SEUSS' THE LORAX" PG -- There's little poetry in this animated 3-D adaptation of Dr. Seuss' save-the-trees parable, but it's fun anyway, and great for kids 6 and older. The vivid colors, elastic character animation and rich humor in the script all serve the Seuss legacy well, if differently. Twelve-year-old Ted (voice of Zac Efron) lives in Thneedville, a walled city devoid of any plant life. Ted worships the lovely Audrey (Taylor Swift), a teen in love with the idea of the tufted Truffula Trees that used to grow there. The evil mini-tyrant Mr. O'Hare (Rob Riggle) is determined that the trees never be replanted. Ted longs to bring Audrey a Truffula Tree. His grandmother (Betty White) tells him to ride his motorbike out of town to find the Once-ler (Ed Helms), a hermit who can tell him what happened to the trees. The Once-ler recounts in a long flashback how he came to Truffula Valley and invented the "thneed," a multipurpose scarf made from the tufts of the trees. The Lorax (Danny DeVito), a furry spirit who spoke for the trees, tried to stop the Once-ler, but he and his greedy family stripped the valley bare. The now regretful Once-ler gives Ted a Truffula seed.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The bad guy O'Hare has two large goons who might scare kids under 6. When Ted rides outside of town he encounters a foreboding wasteland. The Once-ler recalls the time his bed floated down a river toward a waterfall. Nothing is really too scary here, even in 3-D.
(c) 2012, Washington Post Writers Group.