Pick of the flicks for tots to teens

Despicable Me 2, Monsters University, and Epic are hitting the screens this holiday season.
Despicable Me 2, Monsters University, and Epic are hitting the screens this holiday season. 

Is it holiday time again? Don't fear, Australian families: your trusty Essential Kids guide has a film for every age group, a rundown on appeal across age groups, and helpful tips for all. Remember to check good-value days and discounts.

MONSTERS UNIVERSITY 3D (G)
Now showing
This prequel to the animated hit Monsters Inc reveals how super-scare monster trainer Mike Wazowski (voiced by Billy Crystal) first met super-scare monster Sulley (John Goodman). They were in the same class at Monsters University - and loathed each other. When they both fail Scaring 101, Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren) threatens to expel them. Now these foes must work together to win the Scare Games.

  • Language: "Unleash the beast!" is it.
  • Sex: No, thank you, we're scary./li>
  • Violence: Blows, falls; even as a youngster, colour-changing Randy (Steve Buscemi) is spooky.
  • Ages: 3-6 - Despite the cute premise (a world where monsters use children's scream energy to power their cities), the 3D effects are too intense for sensitive littlies. 7-12 - Perfect audience: they won't be fazed by the beasties. 13-plus - Ditto: they'll enjoy the 3D. Remind them to stay for the cute end-credits snippet.
  • Adult compatibility: Not as good as the original. It's too long and the accompanying short feels familiar. Still, even a lesser Pixar Studio production is a cut above the rest. Also in 2D.
  • Critic's rating: 7/10

ANGELINA BALLERINA: NUTCRACKER SWEET (G)
Now showing
An animated collection of five short stories about the ballet-mad mouseling and her classmates at the Camembert Academy. Angelina performs in the annual show and plans to see her favourite ballet (The Nutcracker, of course). Expect much dancing, half a dozen songs and plenty of pink. This is a re-re-release of the 2009 collection, after a fuzzier version played in 2011.

  • Language: An absolutely, positively, stupendous no.
  • Sex: No, thank you, we're British and cartoons.
  • Violence: Only a bad tummy-ache from eating too many biscuits.
  • Ages: 3-6 - Perfect audience for a gentle and efficient (60-minute) offering. One of the best options for tiny tots. 7-12 - Fun for younger aspiring dancers, boys included (the Camembert Academy has plenty of male students). 13-plus - Too babyish.
  • Adult compatibility: Some adult chaperones at one morning screening seemed to be napping, so ... great compatibility!
  • Critic's rating: 8/10

FAST & FURIOUS 6 (M)
Now showing
Live-action sequel. Exiled American car thieves Brian (Paul Walker) and Dom (Vin Diesel) are offered the chance to go home - if they're willing to help ambitious cop Hobbs (Dwayne "the Rock" Johnson). The boys agree - but only to find out if supposedly dead crew member Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) is alive.

  • Language: Frequent.
  • Sex: The camera drools over the guys (nearly) as much as the girls; elsewhere, kisses, sly references.
  • Violence: Car crashes (of course). Also shootouts, deaths and gratuitous girl fights.
  • Ages: 3-6 - Put pedal to the metal. No way. 7-12 - Motor-mad tweens will be desperate to go. 13-plus - Older teens are the target audience. Pity about the pedestrian. dialogue. Watch for a great end-credits cameo.
  • Adult compatibility: High, amazingly. Four time F&F director Justin Lin delivers exhilarating chases. He's smart enough to know you don't need 3D when the action is this well shot.
  • Critic's rating: 8/10
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DESPICABLE ME 2 in 3D (PG)

Now showing
Fantasy comedy sequel to the 2010 animated hit. Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) used to be the world's top villain. Now he's trying to be a good dad and run his jams-and-jellies business. But Gru puts his family in danger when he helps the Anti-Villain Global Action League find a lethal serum that turns cute bunnies into purple monsters.

  • Language: "Mr Sheepbutt!" is it.
  • Sex: Romance references.
  • Violence: Pratfalls; blows; bad taste electrocution-by-taser jokes.
  • Ages: 3- 6 - Too noisy for sensitive tots, especially in 3D. 7-12 - Target audience for efficient if forgettable action comedy. They'll love the klutzy minions. 13-plus - Ditto.
  • Adult compatibility: Lacks the charm of the first film.
  • Critic's rating: 7/10

EPIC in 3D (PG)
Now showing
This animated action-adventure is Honey, I Shrunk the Kids crossed with Avatar. When teenage MK (voiced by Amanda Seyfried) is accidentally shrunk to bug size, she discovers a war between the tiny Leafmen and the Boggans in a nearby forest. MK joins a dashing Leafman (The Hunger Games' Josh Hutcherson) to protect Queen Tara (Beyonce Knowles).

  • Language: "You pooper of parties!"
  • Sex: Discreet kiss.
  • Violence: Attacks, death themes; scary mega-mole.
  • Ages: 3-6 - Older tots at one cinema screening seemed comfortable enough. Gorgeous forest camerawork captures a childlike sense of wonder. 7-12 - Target audience: they'll enjoy a wisecracking slug and snail duo. 13-plus - The starry voice cast includes Colin Farrell; the exhilarating action is filmed in bright 3D (thankfully).
  • Adult compatibility: They'll yawn through dull support characters, such as a party-hound caterpillar (very Happy Feet) and a tough-guy toad (very every-other-film).
  • Critic's rating: 7/10

WORLD WAR Z in 3D (M)
Now showing
Live-action thriller. When a rabies-like virus transforms humans into ravenous zombies, United Nations worker Gerry (Brad Pitt) must find the source of the outbreak. Based on Max Brooks' novel.

  • Language: One four-letter word.
  • Sex: No time for smooching.
  • Violence: Plenty of crashes and shoot-outs, as well as fast, ferocious attacks by the walking - make that the running - dead.
  • Ages: 3-6 - No way! 7-12 - No, this is creepy in parts. 13-plus - Target audience for a zombie flick that plays on a grand, globe-trotting, no-jokes scale.
  • Adult compatibility: Better than expected. Pitt is a hero to follow and the film smartly alternates big-scale crashes with genuine suspense. Pity the too-dark 3D is mostly useless and the plot is vague on key details.
  • Critic's rating: 6/10

DINOSAUR TRAIN: BIG CITY (G)
Now showing
Animated offering from the makers of The Muppets. Buddy the young T. rex loves his adopted, flying Pterosaur family but he's desperate to meet some other T. rexes as well. So, after a few songs and dances, Buddy and sister Tiny and pals Annie and Lorus Brontosaurus head to big city Laramidia to attend a dinosaur convention.

  • Language: Of course not - we're in Laramidia, would we kid-i-ya.
  • Sex: No smooching in the Mesozoic era, thank you!
  • Violence: Adult concerns - Buddy worries that when he grows up, he may be too big for the nest.
  • Ages: 3-6 - The brisk, but not revved-up, 49-minute running time is perfect for this lot. 7-12 - They'll say it's too babyish, but younger kids will love funny rhymes in the little itty-bitty ditties. Plus, Scott The Paleontologist delivers interesting dino-information. 13-plus - Jurassic Park is more their style.
  • Adult compatibility: One of the best for littlies. The digital projection is occasionally fuzzy; it's like watching a giant television show. However, thumbs-up for the get-outside-and-explore-nature theme.
  • Critic's rating: 8/10

SATELLITE BOY (PG)
Now showing
Australian action drama. In an outback community, 12-year-old Pete (Cameron Wallaby) wants to save his local cinema from demolition by a mining company. Ignoring his wise granddad (David Gulpilil), Pete and mate (Joseph Pedley) decide to travel to the city to talk to the mine's bosses. But things go wrong when the boys find a gun.

  • Language: Three swear words.
  • Sex: No.
  • Violence: Threats, gunshots.
  • Ages: 3-6 - Too tense for this lot. 7-12 - Perfect audience for classic coming-of-age adventure; they'll cheer the intrepid lads. 13-plus - They'll enjoy it if you can get them to see it.
  • Adult compatibility: A brisk story is well told by writer-director Catriona McKenzie (a veteran of television series Redfern Now) and boosted by stunning locations.
  • Critic's rating: 7/10

AFTER EARTH (M)
Now showing
Live-action science-fiction adventure. Some things never change: 1000 years after humans leave Earth, dads and their teenage sons are still having problems with communication. Cypher (Will Smith) treats teenage offspring Kitai (Jaden Smith) as if he were just another soldier and Kitai is convinced Cypher blames him for a family tragedy. Then a freak asteroid storm leaves Cypher badly injured on a strange planet so he must rely on Kitai to travel through hostile territory - by himself - to activate a rescue beacon.

  • Language: None.
  • Sex: None.
  • Violence: Scary animal-monsters, death themes, home surgery.
  • Ages: 3-6 - Stand down, recruit! 7-12 - Apart from mid-story sag, the family-bonding adventure is perfect for older kids. It also clocks in at a brisk 95-minutes minus credits. 13-plus - Ditto. This real-life father-son duo works beautifully together.
  • Adult compatibility: One multiplex screening was jammed with grown-up boys. Director M. Night Shyamalan still hasn't recovered his The Sixth Sense pacing; that abrupt ending is a let-down. But the large-scale visuals in After Earth often come across as quite impressive.
  • Critic's rating: 7/10

THE GREAT GATSBY 2D and 3D (M)
Now showing
Live action re-do of F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic story of 1920s America. A nice guy (Tobey Maguire) meets the careless rich: mysterious Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), the woman he loves (Carey Mulligan), and her brutal husband (Joel Edgerton). Cue the wild parties.

  • Language: Two low-level four-letter words.
  • Sex: Frequent references; kisses.
  • Violence: Yep. There's threats, punches and shootings.
  • Ages: 3-6 - Bad idea. 7-12 - A 140-minute running time (and much party chatter) nixes this crowd. 13-plus - The gimmicky 3D version might be made for them but it's still painful to watch.
  • Adult compatibility: Director Baz Luhrmann's flashes of Romeo + Juliet brilliance are undermined by pointless Moulin Rouge! excess and Australia's fussy storytelling. Adults will prefer the 2D version.
  • Critic's rating: 7/10 (2D version); 3/10 (3D version)

MUD (M)
Now showing
 Live-action drama set on the Mississippi River. Two boys, 14, befriend a fugitive (Matthew McConaughey) hiding in the bush.

  • Language: Yes.
  • Sex: Kissing, references.
  • Violence: Shoot-outs, punches, death themes.
  • Ages: 3-6 - Get off this boat! 7-12 - Too slow for them. 13-plus - Great performances from the boys will hook older teens.
  • Adult compatibility: High - more atmosphere than pace, but striking visuals, acting and atmosphere are great compensations. Limited release.
  • Critic's rating: 7/10

ALSO SHOWING
Here are the ones the studios couldn't - or wouldn't - show in time:

Superman, the guy who wears his underpants on the outside, returns (again!) in Man of Steel (rated M, releases Thursday). Superman's last return to the silver screen in 2006 with Brandon Routh fizzled; this one, with Henry Cavill as the titular man, at least has Russell Crowe and Kevin Costner in support.

With Johnny Depp reuniting with his Pirates of the Caribbean director, The Lone Ranger (rated M, July 4) will hopefully be a funny buddy action romp, not simply a clunky re-do of the old television series about a white lawman and his native American partner.

Hellboy director Guillermo Del Toro tackles apocalyptic action in Pacific Rim (CTC, July 11), where humans use giant robots against sea monsters.

Older teens might be interested in We Steal Secrets (rated M, July 4), an eye-opening documentary about WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange.

Meanwhile, fans of The Avengers' director, Joss Whedon, should note that his Much Ado about Nothing (rated M, July 11) is a chatty, amusing version of Shakespeare's play - no superheroes!