One word: Minions. They were the best part of the original 2010 international smash hit. I know it, you know it and Universal Pictures certainly knows it, making the babbling, bright-yellow, bug-eyed buddies the focus of their marketing campaign and adding more screen time for them in the sequel. Former super villain Gru (voiced with lively weirdness once again by Steve Carell) is now enjoying time with his trio of moppet-like adoptive daughters, but he gets dragged back into the bad-guy game to track down the source of a powerful transformative potion. There is not a single thing in here that will seem shocking or frightening or otherwise off-putting for even the youngest viewers. My 3-year-old son, who at some point during every movie will say, 'I want to go home,' out of boredom or fear or a combination of the two, didn't utter that sentence once. But he did ask where the Minions were when they were gone.
Rating: PG-13, for sequences of intense action and violence, and some suggestive material.
A Lone Ranger origin story from Tonto's perspective, this is 2 ½ hours of bloated special effects, overlong set pieces and awkwardly blended efforts at humor, action, mysticism, romance and historical lesson. This should come as no surprise from the people who brought you the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, director Gore Verbinski and producer Jerry Bruckheimer, collaborating once again with star Johnny Depp. Just the sheer length, enormity and confusion at work here might be too overwhelming and/or boring for many kids. There's a lot of Western-style gunplay and at one point, a criminal who's a purported cannibal carves out a guy's heart and eats it. (You don't actually see this, but you do see blood and it's implied.) There's also a brothel sequence, if you feel like explaining that to your children. Oh, and Armie Hammer, as the title character, gets his head dragged through a pile of horse poop. Viewers might feel as if the same thing is happening to them.
Rating: PG-13, for thematic elements, language, some sexual content and brief drug material.
A great choice for older kids, this coming-of-age comedy is the very definition of a crowdpleaser. It's pure formula, but it's executed so beautifully -- with such charm, smart writing and a great cast -- that you won't mind the predictability of the plot points as they come along. Liam James stars as an awkward, quiet, 14-year-old boy stuck on a summer beach house vacation with his divorced mom (Toni Collette), her condescending boyfriend (Steve Carell, again) and his dismissive teenage daughter (Zoe Levin). There's a lot of drinking and some implied pot smoking. Some adult characters enjoy a little extra-curricular cavorting and bikini ogling. And there's consistent profanity, but nothing that pre-teens probably haven't already heard before.
The story of how Venus and Serena Williams rose from poverty in the Southern California city of Compton to the absolute zenith of the tennis world is well known by now. This documentary follows the Williams sisters throughout the 2011 tennis season, which was a challenging one for them both. It doesn't necessarily unearth anything scandalous - Serena famously finds some fierce words for umpires and line judges when she disagrees with their calls - but it does provide an intimate glimpse into their individual daily lives and the closeness they enjoy together. Venus and Serena are roommates, best friends and each other's biggest champion -- an impressive showing of loyalty, especially given how often they've had to compete against each other for Grand Slam titles. And their dedication, perseverance and drive provide a positive lesson for young viewers, whether they're athletes or not.