December movie reviews: a guide for parents

Find out what's on at the cinemas during this month, and what's suitable for your kids and teens to see.

BREATHE (M)

Released: December 26.

Story: British romantic period drama based on a true story. It's 1958 and young Robin Cavendish (Andrew Garfield) seemingly has it all. Then he contracts polio; severely paralysed, he can barely breathe. Robin, now on a ventilator, is doomed to life in hospital. However, wife Diana (Claire Foy) is determined he comes home. She calls on friends, family and an inventor to help.

Language: Seven swear words.

Romance: Kisses, marriage themes.

Violence: Surgery scenes, death themes.

Ages: 3 – 6: No.

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7 – 12: Tweens should know this is nothing like Garfield's 2012 The Amazing Spider-Man.

13-plus: All those older teens who enjoyed British dramas like The Theory of Everything will enjoy this. Garfield delivers a likeable, quietly heroic character; he works brilliantly with vivacious The Crown star Foy. Together they make this one of the most romantic movies of the year. Bonuses? Gorgeous clothes and English rural vistas. Biggest surprise? The film is expertly directed by Andy Serkis, the actor behind Gollum (Lord of The Rings) and the title character in 2005's King Kong.

Adult Compatibility: Predictably sentimental plotting? Yes. Shameless tugging of viewer heart-strings? Yes. Will you mind? No, not with a cast this good and a story which is always inspiring, and a moving testament to marriage.

Critic's rating: 8/10

COCO (PG)

Released: December 26.

Story: Animated comedy adventure set in Mexico's Land of the Dead. Young Miguel (voiced by Anthony Gonzalez) steals an acoustic guitar belonging to a famous musician. Miguel is transported to the afterlife where everyone is a walking, talking skeleton. Helped by a friendly guitarist (Gael Garcia Bernal), Miguel discovers he can only return home if he chooses between playing music and his family.

Language: None.

Romance: Kisses, love themes.

Violence: Falls; fights using bones, shoes; spirit beasts with big fangs. Non-stop death themes.

Ages: 3 – 6: That gigantic spirit panther is too much, as are constant death references.

7 – 12: It's colourful and expertly animated; the intrepid boy hero seemed to impress male pre-tweens at one public screening. The skeletons are mostly amusing but a later darker plot twist undermines the fun. A messy opening slows the film's first quarter.

13-plus: Aforementioned skeletons and exuberant guitar ballads should please some young teens. Girl viewers have no age-appropriate female characters to follow. At the preview reviewed here, the accompanying 22 minute short film and Frozen spin-off, Olaf's Frozen Adventure (rated G and showing at selected sessions), offered
some compensation, even if it did extend the session time and was more about snowman Olaf than popular sisters Anna and Elsa.

Adult Compatibility: Disney Studios delivers again on technique but adults have seen this Mexican ghost world before, in 2014's The Book of Life.

Critic's rating: 7/10

DOWNSIZING (M)

Released: December 26.

Story: Population control drama satire. Dissatisfied worker Paul (Matt Damon) and his wife Audrey (Kristin Wiig) jump at the chance to live like millionaires on their limited savings. But this 'down-sizing' means moving away from family and friends. Paul is miserable – until he meets his party-hearty neighbour (Christoph Waltz) and a cleaner (Hong Chau) with an unusual past. Directed by Alexander Payne (Sideways; Election).

Language: Twenty-nine swear words.

Romance: Kisses, sexual references, bedroom scenes. Brief images of male nudity.

Violence: Threats, surgery scenes.

Ages: 3 – 6: Way over their heads.

7 – 12: Too much chat for them.

13-plus: Fans of Bourne Identity action star Damon should know that he's in sardonic not heroic mode here. Politically-minded older teens get the best rewards, if they accept a sometimes meandering approach. The bonus is funny satire on scientific 'solutions', consumerism and political activism. Damon deserves a 2018 Oscar nomination for his eloquent close-ups.

Adult Compatibility: Payne's often deliberately plain framing doesn't deliver an elegant-looking film but does allow his actors to dominate. The occasional startling visual also helps. Django Unchained star Waltz is hilarious; Chau's initially uncomfortably generic portrayal does ease into subtlety. The 135 minute film could have been trimmed. The trailer gives away key revelations.

Critic's rating: 8/10

PADDINGTON 2 (G)

Released: December 21.

Story: Sequel to the 2014 English live action-animated comedy adventure. Paddington (voiced by Ben Whishaw) wants to buy his Aunt Lucy an antique book for her birthday. But a formerly famous actor (Hugh Grant) also wants the book; he ensures Paddington is sent to prison. The Browns, Paddington's human family, must catch the culprit and free our little bear.

Language: "Bottoms!" is it.

Romance: Fleeting references.

Violence: Chases, falls, threats.

Ages: 3 – 6: Older kids who have grown up with Michael Bond's books should adore this furry, child-sized hero; Whishaw's gentle, wistful voice is exactly right.

7 – 12: Perfect audience for beautifully photographed slapstick mishaps and impressive special effects. Inventive moments with steam trains, balloons and extendable ladders keep the mood light while family-togetherness themes will please all the kids.

13-plus: Energetic contributions from the Brown children, Judy and Jonathan, offer incentives for young teen viewers; older kids may think it is too babyish for them.

Adult Compatibility: High. This feels as charming as the prequel and is arguably more technically accomplished. Enjoyable cameos include Joanna Lumley, Jim Broadbent, Richard Ayoade, Peter Doctor Who Capaldi and Julie Walters. With Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins as Mr and Mrs Brown.

Critic's rating: 9/10

WONDER (PG)

Released: November 30.

Story: Family drama about a ten-year-old boy going to school for the first time. After surviving years of corrective surgeries, Auggie (Jacob Tremblay) discovers kids his own age are far meaner – and friendlier – than he thought. Meanwhile, teenage sister Via (Izabela Vidovic) is also having friend-problems. Based on R.J. Palacio's novel.

Language: Two swear words.

Romance: Discreet kisses, romance themes.

Violence: Bullying, punches, a fight, a chase.

Ages: 3 – 6: The bullying themes are too intense.

7 – 12: Tweens are the perfect audience for a drama which softens the angst with unabashedly sentimental family-togetherness theme ("we're each other's best friend," Via tells a lonely Auggie). Tremblay proves that his superb performance in Room was not a one-off; his age-appropriate hero should inspire every kid in this viewing group.

13-plus: This is a boy-led story but Via gives teen viewers – especially girls – someone to follow, too.

Adult Compatibility: High: many parents will identify with these anxious screen parents, nicely played by Roberts and – yes, it's true – Zoolander comedy star Wilson. The film feels a tad long at nearly two hours and padded with cute-dog scenes. But let's hope this screens through the holidays: it's a solid family movie which pleases several age groups.

Critic's rating: 8/10

JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE (PG)

Released: December 26.

Story: Follow-up to the 1995 movie. When high schoolers are trapped in an interactive game, they are radically changed: nervous Spencer is now a smouldering action man (Dwayne Johnson), shy Martha is a fighter (Karen Gillan); aggressive footballer Fridge is a pint-sized 'weapons valet' (Kevin Hart) while self-obsessed Bethany is a middle-aged map expert (Jack Black). These four must work together or be trapped in the game forever. A dashing pilot (Nick Jonas) lends a hand.

Language: Twenty-four swear words, ridiculously.

Romance: Kisses, adult themes.

Violence: Falls, crashes, chases, fights, shoot-outs, deaths.

Ages: 3 – 6: Too many large scary animals for littlies; unlike the original, this lacks child characters.

7 – 12: Non-stop action should entertain this group although it never duplicates the original's charm. Much chat seems designed to play to an older audience.

13-plus: The opening cleverly establishes the characters. Johnson's scaredy cat-in-a-tough-body contrasts amusingly with stroppy Hart. Singer turned actor Jones is competent enough to please most viewers, not just his fans.

Adult Compatibility: Black steals the show with his switching-bodies subplot. At nearly two hours, this feels over-long and never more than efficiently made. However, it does send you out smiling.

Critic's rating: 8/10

THE FLORIDA PROJECT (MA)

Released: December 21 (selected locations).

Story: American childhood drama. Six year old Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) lives with her unemployed mum in a motel near Disney World. She spends the summer running around the neighbourhood with her friends, unaware that life is changing. With Willem Dafoe.

Language: Frequent.

Romance: Adult themes, sexual references.

Violence: Threats; drug, drinking references.

Ages: 3 – 6: Extraordinary performances make viewers feel they are watching (other) real little kids. But coarse language and threats to family stability will unsettle younger viewers.

7 – 12: Tweens will be entranced by the adventures (and cheekiness) of Moonee and her friends. However, even though the point of the film is that the kids aren't aware of what is happening around them, the background struggles of Moonee's mum will also too much for this group.

13-plus: Older teens should appreciate the suspense in this exquisite portrait of childhood innocence almost – but not quite – affected by modern life. Dafoe enjoys one of his most likeable roles as the hotel manager who keeps watch over the kids.

Adult Compatibility: A memorable drama about the working poor affirms everyday decency. Director Sean Baker, who made the filmed-on-phone break-out hit Tangerine, proves he's a movie maker to watch out for.

Critic's rating: 9/10

THE GREATEST SHOWMAN (PG)

Released: December 26.

Story: Musical drama based on the life of American circus entrepreneur P T Barnum. In 19th century New York, ambitious showman Barnum (Hugh Jackman) gathers a group of outsiders – a bearded lady, a tiny man, African-American trapeze artists – for a novelty show.

Language: 'Shut up' is it.

Romance: Kisses.

Violence: A fight, punches, a fire.

Ages: 3 – 6: Littlies won't be impressed that this story is set BEFORE Barnum opened his animal-filled Big Top tent shows.

7 – 12: This group won't be thrilled either: there are no age-appropriate lead characters; Barnum's tough luck childhood is only seen briefly, and his young daughters are minor players.

13-plus: Teens might embrace a comfortingly familiar rags-to-riches-to-rags-again tale. Fans of Spider-Man Homecoming star Zendaya will enjoy her scenes with heartthrob Zac Efron. Some duets are fun but the ballads often sound like Frozen knock-offs. Charming Jackman looks tense as he tries to soften the coldness of Barnum's exploitation of his performers' disabilities.

Adult Compatibility: A numbingly leaden plot is badly directed (and danced) and boring to look at. Female players are either terribly used (Michelle Williams as a passive wife? Boo!!!) or mis-cast (Rebecca Ferguson as an opera singer?!!). Even lovers of musicals will yawn at this vanity project.

Critic's rating: 4/10