Plan an escape to the reel world

Big screen for small eyes ... <i>The Lorax</i>.
Big screen for small eyes ... The Lorax

Kids, you don’t want to see anything that’s good for you. Parents, you don’t want your loved ones watching junk. It’s an entertainment war out there! So let your trusty Essential Kids movies guide help you through the holidays.

Find the best flicks to suit every age group in your house (and hear what we have to say about the films the studios are trying to hide).

Remember to check your nearest cinemas for discounts and good value sessions, and save money by keeping your 3D glasses. Happy holiday movie-going!

Releases Thursday.

Story: Animated feature based on the 1971 Dr Seuss book about a cheerless, plastic-obsessed town called Thneedville. When 12-year-old Ted (voiced by Zac Efron) decides to give friend Audrey (Taylor Swift) a real tree, he discovers the secret link between Thneedville and the Lorax (Danny DeVito), the spirit of the forest. From the makers of DespicableMe.
Language: ‘‘Shut your mouth!’’ is it.
Sex: A dream kiss.
Violence: Blows, a car crash, scary axes. Much shouting.
Ages: 3-6 –Not as soothingly cute as The Grinch or Horton Hears a Who! but vibrant colours and a compact length will entertain older tots. 7-12 –Neat gadgets will score. 13-plus –Everyone will love the singing goldfish.
Adult compatibility: Oddly, it’ll be adults who will find the ecological theme saccharine, not sweet. Still, this is the only movie these holidays for the whole family.
Critic’s rating: 8/10

Now showing.

Story: Live-action version of the first in author Suzanne Collins’s bestselling futuristic trilogy.
When 16-year-old Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) represents her district in the annual Hunger Games, she must fight 23 other teenagers – including local boy Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) – to the death.
Language: Only two low-level swear words.
Sex: A kiss.
Violence: Discreetly filmed but still downbeat kid-on-kid fights, stabbings, deaths.
Ages: 3-6 – No. 7-12 – Older fans of the book will cheer this ploddingly faithful version. 13-plus – Target audience for shrewd Hollywood teen redo of familiar human-hunt plot.
Adult compatibility: Average, thanks to endless chasing through the forest. Lacks the soulfulness of the first Twilight; Lawrence is charismatic but inexpressive. Annoying open ending.
Critic’s rating: 7/10

Now showing.

Story: Live-action version of the fantasy novel by Tarzan author Edgar Rice Burroughs. American Civil War veteran JohnCarter (Taylor Kitsch) is accidentally transported to Mars and confronts warring humanoids called Heliumites and Zodangans, religious meddlers (the Therns) and green, four-armed natives (Tharks). Confused? Check out beasties called Warhoons, Calots and Thoats. No wonder John is homesick.
Language: It’s hard not to chortle at the locals’ name for Mars (‘‘Barsoom’’), which here sounds like a little boy saying ‘‘bosom’’.
Sex: Kisses.
Violence:Weirdly combined sword and laser action.
Ages: 3-6–No way. 7-12 – Target audience for a best-bits version of Star Wars and Dune. They won’t mind the Jar Jar Binkslooking Tharks. 13-plus – Ditto, for younger teens. Likeable hero Kitsch redeems a meandering story.
Adult compatibility: You’ve seen these sorts of intergalactic cliches before. That colossal budget ($250 million, according to Entertainment Weekly) delivers spectacular air and ground battles but sleek 3D effects and Finding Nemo director Andrew Stanton are still unable to conquer the lumpy script.
Critic’s rating: 6/10

Releases April 19.

Story: Latest in the live-action dance-romance series. After a public humiliation, American dancer Ash (Falk Hentschel) is desperate to win in Paris, but his new dance crew must deliver. Could a daring blend of street moves and Latin be the answer?
Language: Three swear words.
Sex: Steamy kisses.
Violence: Threats.
Ages: 3-6 – No. 7-12 – Aspiring tween dancers will love it. 13-plus –Target audience for a slick package. They’ll cheer a rousing finale, tricked out in gleaming 3D.
Adult compatibility: The plot is nothing more than a countdown to the big danceoff, sprinkled with light romance. But the varied, athletic cast offers every viewer someone to cheer, including the impressive, pint-size winner of a real British talent contest.
Critic’s rating: 7/10


Now showing.

Story: Large-format, 40-minute documentary on the huge reptiles that ruled prehistoric seas. Leaden historical re-creations are almost redeemed by vivid 3D visuals of spooky marine monsters.
Language: No.
Sex: No.
Violence: Savage attacks.
Ages: 3-6 –Too many scary monsters. 7-12 – Target audience. 13-plus – Ditto.
Adult compatibility: The approach is tired but the big-screen 3D effects are worth seeing.
Critic’s rating: 6/10

Now showing (limited season).

Story: Hour-long adventure with the animated television character (and book favourite). British ballet mad mousling Angelina is desperate to perform in a talent show. Cue songs and happy dances, including the ‘‘Ssssh’’Dance.
Language: None.
Sex: Nothing.
Violence: Nix.
Ages: 3-6 – A perfect way to introduce littlies to the movies. 7-12 – Too young for them. 13-plus – Ditto.
Adult compatibility: High (and grateful!). The inevitable audience dance-off at the end will help wear out your little princess. Unfortunately, most cinemas reduce tot-targeted screenings during the holidays, so catch this today and next weekend.
Critic’s rating: 7/10

Now showing.

Story: Live-action spinoff from the 1980s TV series. Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) loathed each other in school. But now, as newbie undercover cops, they have to bust a school drug ring. Cocky jock Jenko is shocked by modern high school but Schmidt discovers the thrill of popularity.
Language: Non-stop swearing.
Sex: Non-stop references.
Violence: Car chases, gunshots, blows, drug freakouts.
Ages: 3-6 – You dunce! No way!  7-12 –Out of bounds. 13-plus – For older teens.
Adult compatibility: Pretty good. The film runs out of plot ideas but it’s well shot. Amusing jokes target school cliques and lame (movie) ideas. Enjoy that killer cameo.
Critic’s rating: 7/10

Now showing.

Story: Live-action sequel based on the Marvel comic. Soulless motorbike rider Johnny Blaze (NicolasCage) duels with the devil (a depressed-looking Ciaran Hinds).
Language: Mostly variations (inevitably) on ‘‘Go to hell!’’
Sex: None.
Violence: The usual fiery explosions, people crumbling to ashes and so on.
Ages: 3-6 –Go to you-know-where for even thinking it. 7-12– A young teen (anti-) hero could lure them in. 13-plus – Target audience; they’ll appreciate the flaming-skull action.
Adult compatibility: Highlander star Christopher Lambert and solid 3D effects help, while no one does crazy-rueful like Cage. Pity about the motheaten script.
Critic’s rating: 5/10

Now showing.

Story: This Hollywood comedy-drama follows three unpopular 17-year-olds trying to stage an ‘‘epic’’ party. When an invitation is posted online, the results are filmed. Uh-oh. Think The Blair Witch Project meets Superbad.
Language: Non-stop. And we mean non-stop.
Sex: Explicit sexual references, some nudity.
Violence: Fights, explosions and drug freakouts.
Ages: 3-6 –What the what?! 7-12 –No (it will give them too many ideas). 13-plus – Older teens are the obvious target but everyone else will want to see it.
Adult compatibility: Any parent who thinks their kids are too ‘‘quiet’’ to rampage should see this. American teens have reportedly already been ‘‘inspired’’ by the film. Oh, joy.
Critic’s rating: 7/10


Parents, based on past experience, you know that if movie studios don’t show their kid targeted film until the last moment, they’re hiding something from the grown-ups.

High on the late premiering naughty list is the Snow White redo Mirror Mirror (PG, releasing this Thursday). The bland advance images, with Lily ‘‘Who?’’ Collins and a rigid Julia Roberts, will make most yearn for the rival June release, Snow White and the Huntsman,which stars Twilight’s feisty Kristen Stewart.

Another newcomer is Wrath of theTitans (M, out Thursday). This is the sequel to the Clash of the Titans,which (along with The Last Airbender) gave 3D movie rush jobs the appalling reputation they deserve.

What should we say about American Reunion (MA, April 5) except, maybe, don’t go there! Unsurprisingly, no-one is seeing this early. The set-up, about ageing toolies still chasing the young stuff, sounds like a Schoolies’Week from hell.

Another possible turkey is the Hasbro board game spin-off Battleship (April 12). Parents won’t be thrilled to know this is regurgitated by the same companies responsible for the Transformers: Dark of the Moon toys. (They were just one example of recent products – aimed at the three years-plus demographic – that were branded with the titles of violent movies, which your kids, naturally, then pestered you to see).

Battleship, already unlovingly dubbed Transformers at Sea by US press, arrives with one asset. That’s not the bloated $200-million budget but likeable star Taylor Kitsch.

Finally, let’s hope the British makers of The Pirates! Band of Misfits (G, April 5) are in cracking Wallace & Gromit puppetry form and not the dull digital cliche-dom of the 2006 animation Flushed Away.

In Pirates – don’t groan – English actor Hugh Grant voices yet another bumbling character. This time, he’s the supposed cut throat Captain on a mission to defeat his rivals, Black Bellamy and Cutlass Liz, to win the coveted Pirate of the Year Award.