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