Family Filmgoer

Beyond the ratings game: Jane Horwitz of the Washington Post suggests recent releases appropriate for children - or not.

Ages 6 and Up

Charlotte's Web

Semi-Hollywoodized adaptation of E.B. White's beloved 1952 book - live-action but with computer-generated effects - about a piglet, Wilbur, rescued from slaughter (because he's a runt; we see the farmer carrying an ax) by a little farm girl, Fern (Dakota Fanning), who must leave him in a neighbor's barn, where he is first befriended by the spider, Charlotte (Julia Roberts), and eventually by Oprah Winfrey and Cedric the Entertainer as geese Gussy and Golly, Kathy Bates and Reba McEntire as cows Bitsy and Betsy, and Steve Buscemi as the rat, Templeton, among others; Charlotte, too, saves Wilbur from the ax by weaving a message, "some pig," into her web, which humans find miraculous; tale still brings a tear at the end when Charlotte passes on. Mildly crude barnyard expressions; cow-flatulence humor; subtle references to the slaughter of pigs, including the little girl's father carrying an ax, and the smokehouse. 1 hr. 36


Ages 7 and Up

Happily N'Ever After Computer-animated send-up of fairy tales has a cute premise about Cinderella (voice of Sarah Michelle Gellar) in love with the moronic Prince (Patrick Warburton) of Fairy Tale Land while his lowly servant, Rick (Freddie Prinze Jr.), loves her; idea is coarsened by film's unfunny sitcomish sensibility as Cinderella's wicked stepmom (Sigourney Weaver) usurps the vacationing Wizard's magic and causes all the villains to win in each fairy tale. Crass phrases; toilet humor; scenes with glowering wolves, trolls, witches on smoke-belching broomsticks chasing good guys; and for kids who love pure tales, beware of some plot turns. 1 hr. 27 PG

Happy Feet Computer-animated fable starts out as a funny penguin musical about diversity, then morphs into a scarier screed about human encroachment on their Antarctic habitat; despite a happy ending, it feels like two films; Mumble (voice of Elijah Wood), a fledgling Emperor penguin, doesn't have the singing voice necessary to keep a mate; he tap-dances instead, and his colony rejects him; he makes Latino friends from an Adelie colony (led by Robin Williams as Ramon) who think he's cool; sad about losing the lovely Gloria (Brittany Murphy) at his home colony, he goes off to learn why the fish are dwindling and encounters humans. Scary bits include looming ships, fishing nets and debris, extra-scary scenes of leopard seals, killer whales, birds of prey bursting out of water or swooping down to get Mumble. Too much for many kids under 7, some under 8. 1 hr. 48 PG

Night at the Museum A comic romp with computer-generated effects about a loser (Ben Stiller) who gets a job as the night guard at New York's natural history museum and discovers, after his aged predecessors (Dick Van Dyke, Mickey Rooney, Bill Cobbs) leave him, that the exhibits - a T. rex skeleton, Attila the Hun, Sacajawea, Teddy Roosevelt (Robin Williams, having a bully time), miniature Roman legions, Civil War soldiers, and cowboys (Owen Wilson in a cameo) all come to life and tear up the place; he must contain the chaos to keep his job, impress his son (Jake Cherry), and woo a cute tour guide (Carla Gugino). Little kids may jump at the dinosaur chasing Larry, the Huns grabbing him, and the monkey biting him; toilet humor; a few rude but unprofane expressions. 1 hr. 48 PG

Ages 10 and Up

Eragon "Dungeons & Dragons" tale (from Christopher Paolini's book) - live-action with added special effects - about teenager Eragon (Edward Speleers), who finds a dragon's egg, sees it hatch and grow into the flying beast Saphira (voice of Rachel Weisz), and realizes he is destined to be a Dragon Rider, taking her into battle against an evil king (John Malkovich) and sorcerer (Robert Carlyle); a wise ex-Dragon Rider (Jeremy Irons) and a lovely elf warrior (Sienna Guillory) help him. Battles with demons, their faces swarming with bugs; implied impalements and arrow-piercings, nongraphic except for an occasional bloodless gash; nongraphic scene (with screams) implies soldiers torture a man; cool/scary, swooping flights on Saphira; newly hatched Saphira eats a rat, mostly off-camera. 1 hr. 39 PG

Miss Potter Staid but enjoyable Masterpiece Theatre-esque portrait of Beatrix Potter (Renée Zellweger) as a slightly eccentric unmarried upper-middle-class lady in 1890s London and how she overcame Victorian prejudices about women authors and artists and got her delightfully illustrated and written Peter Rabbit tales published, then fell in love with her editor (Ewan McGregor), though the course of love proves difficult. One strongish epithet; themes about death and grieving and a parent trying to squelch an adult child's dreams. For kids with good attention spans and tastes ranging beyond pop culture. 1 hr. 32 PG

Ages 13 and Up

We Are Marshall Matthew McConaughey is real-life college football coach Jack Lengyel, who rebuilt the football program at Marshall University in West Virginia soon after a 1970 plane crash killed most of the school's team, coaching staff, and many local boosters; Matthew Fox as a still-hurting assistant coach, Anthony Mackie as a haunted varsity player, David Strathairn as the shy college president. Aftermath of plane crash depicted, with burning wreckage, a body bag, anguished loved ones; crash is not reenacted - we see passengers on a plane, a flash, then blackness; repeated use of S-word, a few milder oaths; college kids drinking beer. 2 hrs. 04 PG