Kids movies that won’t make parents crazy

The holidays are a great time to see movies – for both kids and adults. But what movies should you take your kids to? Which ones will they truly enjoy and learn something from? And which ones are like eye candy? Most important, which ones can you sit through without wanting to shout, “That’s stupid!” and run out of the room?

Fear not. ChicagoParent.com has some recommendations from CommonSenseMedia.org – a media advocacy and research organization that, among other things, rates children’s movies and TV shows. So what does Common Sense Media think are the best kids’ movies this winter?

According to Betsy Bozdech, CSM’s director of movie ratings and reviews, the best movies per age group are: “The Muppets” for younger kids; “Hugo” for tweens; and “MI4: Ghost Protocol” for teens (though she also likes “Coriolanus” and “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” for older teens “who like their entertainment a bit more cerebral”).

Common Sense Media has a thorough ratings system that assesses the value of each movie it reviews on the basis of eight categories:

  • Educational value
  • Positive messages
  • Positive role models
  • Violence and scariness
  • Sexy stuff
  • Language
  • Consumerism
  • Drinking, drugs and smoking

In addition, parents can write their own reviews, which get aggregated and posted at the top of each movie’s page.

“The Muppets” don’t rate very high on the educational category, but do well on positive messages and role models. And it’s a fun movie or adults, who will love the cameos and ’80s references. Even though it’s PG-13, CSM rates the movie for ages five and up. Some parents of younger kids fretted about the fart jokes and “fight” scenes involving Jack Black and Animal, but others couldn’t figure out why it wasn’t rated G.

“Hugo,” says Bozdech, is one of the smarter movies of the year, but younger kids might not be able to follow it. Sensitive kids may also be scared by the death of Hugo’s father (seen in flashback) and the suspense over whether Hugo will get caught. The educational value is mostly in learning about the history of film. Again, kids over eight (or kids who are reading and understanding books above a third grade level) should get most of the film references. It’s also helpful to do some post screening internet research on people like the filmmaker Georges Melies – who was a real filmmaker and is played in “Hugo” by Ben Kingsley. The film, says Bozdech, is also chock full of positive messages and role models. The perseverance of the two main characters, according to the review, “sets an example for adolescents to follow their passion, seek the truth, and help fix what’s broken in the world.”

“Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” is rated PG-13 and, unlike “The Muppets,” truly deserves that rating, according to both the professional and parent reviewers on Common Sense Media’s page. The movie is rated for lots of violence and lots of bad language – which is just what you’d expect of such an action thriller. The language is limited to “infrequent use of words including ‘s-t,’ ‘hell,’ ‘ass,’ and ‘damn,'” so if you or your kids are OK with that, you should be fine. The plot is straight-forward good vs. evil. And, as expected with major Hollywood action movies, there are a lot of product placements.

Bozdech says any one of the movies above will hold parents’ interest. “Arthur Christmas,” she adds, is “silly and fun without being condescending or stupid.” One cannot underestimate that factor.

Other movies on Bozdech’s list that “most parents will love” include “Arthur Christmas,” “War Horse” and “The Adventures of Tintin.”

“We Bought a Zoo,” she says, “is rated PG but is actually more for parents than kids.”

And the movies that will send parents screaming out of the room? Bozdech is circumspect: “‘Alvin’ and ‘Happy Feet 2’ are less-surefire parent pleasers.”

Want to check out other movies, or contribute a parent review? Head to CommonSenseMedia.org.

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