January 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.

MARY AND THE WITCH'S FLOWER (PG)

Released: January 18.

Story: English-dubbed version of the animated Japanese adventure fantasy. Tween Mary (voiced by Ruby Barnhill) is staying with an elderly English relative and feeling bored and lonely. But when she discovers a flying broomstick which takes her to an exciting magic school, Mary puts friends at home in danger. Based on Mary Stewart's novel The Little Broomstick. With Kate Winslet, Jim Broadbent.

Language: None.

Romance: None.

Violence: Falls, threats, death themes, scary beasts, explosions.

Ages: 3 – 6: Yes, for older kids comfortable with Harry Potter-ish magic.

7 – 12: Perfect for this age group. The pastel and ink storybook-styled visuals looked lovely; this refreshing alternative to shout-y Hollywood films is unpredictable-feeling, effortlessly imaginative and dryly funny. It's also one of the few female-led movies aimed at families these holidays. Energetic friend Peter (voiced by Louis Serkis, son of 'Gollum' character actor Andy Serkis) should keep male viewers watching.

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13-plus: Worth trying on younger teens; older teens interested in Japanese animation may also consent to attend.

Adult Compatibility: High, thanks to classic storytelling. Director Hiromasa Yonebayashi is a former animator with the famed Studio Ghibli – and it shows. Clever pacing alternates quiet suspense (like a walk through a seemingly peaceful forest) with dramatic action.

Critic's rating: 8/10

PITCH PERFECT 3 (M)

Released: January 1.

Story: Latest in the American comedy series about an all-girl singing group. When they're invited to perform overseas on an Army tour, college graduates Beca (Anna Kendrick), Amy (Rebel Wilson), Chloe (Brittany Snow) and Aubrey (Anna Camp) reunite. But their European adventure will be tough, thanks to sneaky rivals and a criminal connection. Directed by Trish Sie (Step Up All In).

Language: Nine swear words and 30 lazily scripted, mind-numbing 'you guys' used to address female characters.

Romance: Adult themes, kisses, sexual references.

Violence: Fights, punches, explosions.

Ages: 3 – 6: Too much chat for this lot; talking-animal musicals like Sing are more their speed.

7 – 12: Tweens won't have a problem with mostly discreet adult references. 'Fat Amy' is a welcome contrast to her distressingly similarly-shaped co-stars. Non-stop sampling of hit songs pads a thin plot.

13-plus: Target audience for an unambitious but competent sequel. The snappy pace, tight 93 minute length and more emphasis on Wilson are shrewd. Regular support player Elizabeth Banks (who directed PP2 and produced the series) is fun but John Lithgow's weird (English? Australian?) accent is distracting as is Ruby Rose's muted cameo.

Adult Compatibility: For fans only. They'll enjoy upbeat out-takes during the final credits.

Critic's rating: 7/10

THE COMMUTER (M)

Released: January 18.

Story: American urban action drama. Family man Michael MacCauley (Liam Neeson) is taking his usual train home when he is offered money to find another passenger. If he refuses, Michael's family will be targeted. Now he has only a few hours to find the commuter but already the bodies are beginning to pile up.

Language: Twenty swear words.

Romance: Adult themes.

Violence: Blows, threats, fights, shootings, deaths.

Ages: 3 – 6: No way.

7 – 12: Ditto: this is not the right train story for them.

13-plus: Fans of Neeson's exciting Taken should know this is as much as a detective hunt as an action flick. However, Neeson has cornered the market in playing supposedly 'ordinary' guys who, when bullied, deliver breathtakingly fierce fights. The plot is overly convoluted and barely plausible but Neeson makes it convincing, helped by solid support actors (Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga).

Adult Compatibility: As usual, the female roles are sketchy; poor Elizabeth McGovern is stuck in the thankless worried-wife role. Director Jaume Collet-Saura might have worked with Neeson on his less-acclaimed action flicks (Non-Stop; Run All Night) but he knows exactly how to film his star. The sometimes flamboyant cinematography also means the train carriage setting is never boring.

Critic's rating: 7/10

THE JUNGLE BUNCH (G)

Released: January 25 (selected locations).

Story: English-dubbed feature spin-off from the animated French television series. The Champs, a team of crime fighters, overcome a threat to their island home. Jump to years later: young Maurice (voiced by Kirk Thornton) is the adopted penguin son of a former Champs leader. Maurice disobeys his mum Natacha, who is a tiger (!!), to form his own justice squad. They plan to confront malevolent koala Igor who wants to blow up Maurice's home with exploding mushrooms. Problems? Maurice insists on taking his pet goldfish everywhere with him.

Language: None.

Romance: A kiss.

Violence: Slaps, explosions, fires, falls, chases. Missing-friend themes.

Ages: 3 – 6: A scatty plot and too many characters will overwhelm younger tots; the sudden disappearance of a Champs member may distract them. Older kids should love the animals and identify with would-be hero Maurice as he tries to prove to his mum that he can do things on his own.

7 – 12: This zany adventure includes touches of the same cheeky humour, and goggle-eyed characters, as the British Wallace and Gromit stories.

13-plus: Too young for most of them.

Adult Compatibility: The advance print reviewed here was erratically entertaining. Luckily, its bursts of energy keep you watching.

Critic's rating: 7/10

THE NUT JOB 2: NUTTY BY NATURE (G)

Released: January 11.

Story: Animated sequel to the 2014 talking animal comedy. When the nut shop explodes, city squirrel Surly (voiced by Will Arnett) and friends forage in a nearby park – until the corrupt Mayor decides to develop it.

Language: None.

Romance: A kiss.

Violence: Chases, falls, blows, threats. Two queasy-making regurgitation scenes will make some viewers wish they hadn't eaten.

Ages: 3 – 6: This is chock-full of animals (dogs, mice, birds and squirrels, of course). Older kids will enjoy hectic slapstick although the story lacks age-appropriate child characters. That continues an annoying trend in Hollywood holiday movies: trying to grab all viewing ages means tiny tots are often ill-served with adult themes.

7 – 12: The story is an unoriginal sausage-chain of confrontations but camerawork and pacing are terrific. Jackie Chan voices a sarcastic rodent fighter who's a "weapon of mouse destruction". However, there are few lead female characters in what is a standard bro-mance teamwork tale.

13-plus: Younger teens won't object to watching this if they've seen every other holiday film.

Adult Compatibility: Competent, energetic and noisy. However, it should please most family members most of the time. The urban green-spaces plot should also appeal to any cramped, city-dwelling parent.

Critic's rating: 7/10