NEW THIS WEEK
-- AN ANIMATED 3-D COMPENDIUM OF CHILDHOOD MYTHS AND MAGIC, A LITTLE HEAVY ON THE MELANCHOLY:
"RISE OF THE GUARDIANS" PG -- Beautifully animated and in 3-D, "Rise of the Guardians" delves at times into the darker side of childhood -- nightmares -- in ways that kids younger than 8 may find too unsettling. Adapted from the book by William Joyce, the movie re-imagines the story of Jack Frost (voice of Chris Pine). A sort of magical trickster, Jack is not one of the vaunted Guardians of the title that so many little ones grow up believing in -- the Tooth Fairy, the Sandman, the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus. At least not yet. Jack doesn't know his own story. He recalls waking up under a frozen pond and breaking through the ice. He can fly and do all sorts of magic, and he's invisible to humans. Jack doesn't realize that the Man in the Moon has decided it's time for him to become a Guardian, too. He's summoned to the North Pole to see "North" (Alec Baldwin), a big, burly Russian, also known as Santa Claus. With his elves and his furry Yetis, Santa heads the Guardians team. Working with him are Tooth (Isla Fisher), aka Tooth Fairy, leader of the hummingbird-like tooth fairies; Bunny (Hugh Jackman), aka the egg-hiding Easter Bunny from Down Under; and the silent bringer of sleep, the Sandman. It seems that a villain is afoot. Pitch (Jude Law), aka Pitch Black, is the bringer of nightmares. He wants kids to stop believing in those other nice creatures and to fear him, as he envelops the Earth in a tsunami of bad dreams. Nothing in "Rise of the Guardians" is worse than in the old Grimm fairy tales, but some kids may find it disturbing and a little short on humor and long on melancholy. The battles between the Guardians and Pitch go on for too long. You keep thinking it's over and then it isn't.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The magical powers wielded in battles between the Guardians and Pitch get pretty intense, if not downright scary in 3-D. Early in the film, Jack takes a real kid, Jamie (Dakota Goyo), on a harrowing sled ride, invisibly guiding him past cars and other dangers. Bunny refers to kids as "ankle biters." SPOILER ALERT: Late in the film, Jack learns that he drowned as a child while rescuing his little sister.
-- A SENTIMENTAL 3-D FEVER DREAM OF A FILM:
"LIFE OF PI" PG -- Despite the PG rating, "Life of Pi" is probably more suitable for kids 12 and older, and some of them will lose patience with the 3-D film's visually stunning but lengthy middle section and its rather mushy philosophizing and less than fascinating young lead actor. The movie features several intense moments of animal-on-animal violence and life-threatening survival issues for the teen protagonist, adrift in a lifeboat on the stormy Pacific and sharing it with a wild and hungry Bengal tiger. Though the animal violence and stormy seas are computer-generated effects, they are disturbingly realistic. Based on Yann Martel's novel, the movie chronicles the tragedy and adventure in the life of Pi Patel (Suraj Sharma), a smart, spiritually searching lad who lives with his family in picturesque Pondicherry, India, where they own a zoo. Pi's father (Adil Hussain) decides that the family should move to Canada. They take a freighter from Japan, bringing some zoo animals along. The vessel capsizes in a storm and sinks. Pi loses his family and lands on a lifeboat with zoo animals -- among them an injured zebra, a hyena and a tiger oddly named Richard Parker. The law of the jungle rules violently, making the tiger the last animal standing. Pi creates a raft for himself, attached to the lifeboat by a rope to avoid the tiger. He and the creature reach an uneasy peace, catching fish and rainwater. Supplies run low and after weathering yet another storm, they're near death. They land on a bizarre floating island populated by meerkats where they restore themselves, then head back to sea and final rescue. The end of the saga unfolds in flashback as the adult Pi (played by Irrfan Khan) puts the whole story in perspective for a writer (Rafe Spall).
THE BOTTOM LINE: Early in the film, Pi's father teaches him about the danger of wild animals by feeding a live goat to the tiger and making Pi watch. The moment is not graphic, but it is upsetting. The animal violence on the lifeboat is surprisingly graphic for a PG film. When Pi is in school in India, his friends tease him about his name, using toilet humor. Pi kills a big fish with an ax. SPOILER ALERT: At the end of the film, the older Pi tells a violent human story about his experience in the lifeboat.
-- A WEAK AND SILLY REMAKE OF THE 1984 FILM:
"RED DAWN" PG-13 -- North Korean forces improbably invade the Pacific Northwest and a feckless group of teens organize themselves into a resistance force to fight the occupiers in this lame and ludicrous remake of the 1984 film (also PG-13). It's OK for most teens, because the level of violence, though it includes gun battles and explosions, stays within the PG-13 range as it used to be -- no mayhem to make younger teens cringe. It's just that the film is so darn silly. The estimable Chris Hemsworth ("Thor," "The Avengers," "Snow White and the Huntsman," all PG-13s), usually so fun to watch, can't save the weak script. He plays Jed Eckert, an Iraq War vet recently come home. After the North Korean invasion, which they learn has taken place all over the U.S., Jed trains his kid brother Matt (Josh Peck), Matt's friend Daryl (Connor Cruise), who is son of the mayor (Michael Beach), and their other pals, and forms a small but effective guerrilla team. Calling themselves the Wolverines, they give the occupying forces fits by committing violent acts of sabotage and spraying graffiti to fight the North Koreans' propaganda. When seasoned military veterans show up (led by Jeffrey Dean Morgan) to help, they're impressed. But audiences, unless they're into survivalist culture, won't be.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The action sequences feature gunfire and explosions. None of the shootings is graphic, but we do see a wound being sewn up. Jed and Matt see their own father (Brett Cullen) shot by the North Koreans. The resistance fighters kill locals they believe collaborate with the enemy. The dialogue includes occasional crude language, mild profanity and one rude gesture. Characters drink beer and occasionally use understated sexual innuendo, such as a hand on a thigh. They shoot a buck in the woods and make someone drink the deer's blood as a prank.
(c) 2012, Washington Post Writers Group.