The "Planes" series isn't as captivating as the "Cars" films, but kids under 8 will heartily enjoy this googly-eyed adventure. "Planes: Fire and Rescue" is better than the original "Planes" in some ways -- the excitement of firefighting one-ups the worldwide race from the first film, and there are some cute jokes that only parents will laugh at. (Erik Estrada in a "CHiPs" homage!) Sure, it could still use some more character development, and the 3-D is unnecessary, but this is a pleasant summer escape
Hiccup, Astrid, Toothless and the rest of the gang are back in "How to Train Your Dragon 2," in an animated sequel that's just as much fun as the first film. Fork over a little extra for the 3-D if you can, as the universe of soaring, swooping dragons and stomping Vikings is worth a deep-dimensional dive. But there's a serious plot here too, as Hiccup meets a long-lost family member who has a fascinating background and leads his pals against two new villains. One's human, and the other is an Alpha Dragon who can control all the other dragons, including -- perhaps? -- even loyal Toothless.
"Maleficent" offered up some of the most terrifying trailers for a Disney film ever. But the film itself, a new twist on the black-clad villain of "Sleeping Beauty" fame, isn't quite as scary as the previews. There are frightening moments, especially when Maleficent (an imposing yet charming Angelina Jolie) is stripped of her wings (offscreen), but that horrific event is needed -- it's what puts her on her baby princess-cursing path. (We always knew that simply not being invited to a royal christening couldn't have been what set her off.) Kindergarteners will have some jump-in-a-parent's-lap moments, but overall, this PG-rated 3-D dazzler is a winner.
"Godzilla" isn't advertised as a kid's movie, but come on, kids love giant monsters, and giant monsters fighting is even better. The latest reboot of our favorite Japanese giant is rated PG-13, but it's a pretty clean PG-13. No sex, no blood, and way less terror than the similarly PG-13 rated "Pacific Rim," which also featured giant fighting monsters. Some scary stuff though, including the loss of a mom and children (temporarily) separated from their parents admid scary circumstances, and your littlest ones should wait till they're older to take this one in. Still, if your kid is 10 or up, they've probably enacted worse violence with action figures. And parents will appreciate the gentle treatment of our radioactive hero, as the film respectfully pays homage to the Japanese films of yore, and Godzilla remains the good guy we always knew he was.
Disneynature's annual April release honors Earth Day, this time by focusing on a mother grizzlly and two cubs. John C. Reilly (yes, "Wreck-It Ralph" himself) provides the narration. But be warned: Nature is indeed red in tooth and claw here, and littlest kids are likely to be frightened. The cubs are constantly in danger, whether from other bears, starvation, drowning, a hungry wolf, or other woes. And there's enough bloody half-chewed-open salmon here to stock a fishmonger. But older kids will appreciate the storyline and nature scenes, and -- spoiler alert -- there's a happy ending.
"Rio" introduced audiences to nerdy Blu (Jesse Eisenberg) a tropical Spix's Macaw who spent his baby birdhood in a Minnesota bookstore, and never learned to fly. In the sequel, Blu and spouse Jewel (Anne Hathaway) and their 3 kids live in Rio, but end up reuniting with her family in the Amazon rain forest, with their familiar friends from the first film tagging along. Not quite as lively and fresh as the first time around, but Blu's geeky charm still flies high, and the film is as colorful as Brazilian Carnaval. (TODAY show watchers will detect anchor Natalie Morales' voice as a news anchor.)
For Kermit the Frog, it's not easy being green, but for his "Muppets Most Wanted" nemesis, Constantine, it's not easy being mean. The lookalike amphibian breaks out of a Siberian gulag (run by the always-great Tina Fey) and has no trouble convincing the somewhat dim Muppets he's their fearless leader. This sequel to the 2011 Muppet return is fun and sassy, with plenty of jokes parents will appreciate, and lots of lively celeb cameos.
The 1960s cartoon duo "Mr. Peabody & Sherman" get a fun reboot for a new generation in this time-traveling comedy. Thanks to their trusty WABAC machine, they mingle with DaVinci, Marie Antoinette and others, all while fighting off a nasty social worker who doesn't think a dog should have ever adopted a human. (Be warned: There are plenty of issues surrounding adoption that parents in all situations may want to discuss after the film.)
Morgan Freeman's reassuring voice walks kids and parents alike through the marvels of "Island of Lemurs: Madagascar," an April 2014 IMAX and 3-D release. Even grownups will find themselves reaching out to pet the lemurs' fuzzy tails, which the 3-D makes seem so tantalizingly close. Older kids will appreciate the lessons delivered by scientist Dr. Patricia Wright, who is to lemurs what Dr. Jane Goodall was to chimpanzees. An entrancing family film.
Princesses Anna and Elsa are part of the new breed of Disney royalty, who aren't just sitting around for their prince to come. But to remove the curse of eternal winter from their land, they do enlist some friends, especially Kristoff and a goofy snowman named Olaf. This dazzling 3-D adventure can get scary for the 3-and-under set, but it's visually beautiful and captivating, that rare movie that earns its 3-D ticket upcharge.
Will "Planes" star Dusty Crophopper become the new Lightning McQueen? The film isn't from Pixar, and was supposed to go straight to DVD, but is seen as a "Cars" spinoff and should pull in the family movie dollars.
Neil Patrick Harris, Jayma Hays and The Smurfs return for "Smurfs 2." Brendan Gleeson joins the cast as the stepfather of Harris' character, who teaches him about the importance of family. The PG-rated film is not for the littlest kids, and includes Smurfied swear words such as "Son of a Smurf!"
"Turbo," about a garden snail who dreams of racing in the Indy 500, is rating PG, but it's much less scary than G-rated "Monsters University." The plot is simple and although there are a lot of characters, the focus remains on Turbo and his race, making it easy for kids to follow along.
Mike and Sulley from "Monsters Inc." are back in the 2013 release "Monsters University." This prequel shows how the two scarers learned their trade, with plenty of their goofy monster pals along for the ride. Like the first film, it's rated G, but there are numerous scary scenes. Still, the monsters' very job is to scare kids, so those who've seen the first film won't be too frightened.
Supervillain Gru softened once he adopted three orphans in 2010's "Despicable Me." In the 2013 sequel, "Despicable Me 2," they're all back, and so are the little yellow minions. The plots are complex, but Gru, his girls, and the minions keep things light.
In the 2013 animated adventure "Epic," young M.K. is shrunk down and discovers a whole world of creatures living -- and warring -- in the forest near her father's house. Numerous battle scenes and one sad death give this film its PG rating.
How did the Wizard get to Oz? "Oz the Great and Powerful" casts James Franco as Oscar "Oz" Diggs, a young magician who finds himself in the magical land. Warning to parents: While the original film is rated G, this one is PG, and for good reason. The flying monkeys are scarier, the witch has a creepy transformation, and beloved Glinda the Good is tortured. Not for the littlest or most sensitive kids, no matter how much they love the first film.
Charming and sweet from the first minutes on, "Wreck-It Ralph" features a video-game bad guy (perfectly woeful voice of John C. Reilly) who longs to be a hero. He stumbles into a candy-themed game and teams up with a little girl (voice of Sarah Silverman) who makes him feel like a true hero in the end. Delightful for kids, and divine for parents who will remember their own Pac-Man and Burger Time arcade days.
Naturally kids would think their fictional friends all know each other. In "Rise of the Guardians," Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Sandman, the Tooth Fairy and Jack Frost all team up to fight Pitch, the creepy Nightmare King. Pitch is a little creepy for the littlest tots, especially when he blows his spooky nightmare dust on good dreams, but overall this 3-D film is a real charmer. Don't be surprised if it leaves your impressionable ones thinking Santa has a Russian accent and the Easter Bunny is Australian, though.
Sweet at heart but too scary for very little kids, "Frankenweenie" mixes "Frankenstein" and "Pet Sematary." Tim Burton made the original short version of the film back in 1984, and was fired by Disney for it (reportedly it was too scary, spendy, and took too long). The new version is entertaining for older kids but we're still talking zombie pets here, and it's a tad unnerving even for adults.
"Hotel Transylvania" turns monsters into kid-friendly goofballs. Dracula (voice of Adam Sandler) runs a hotel that he started to keep his monster pals away from we dangerous humans. When his daughter Mavis falls in love with a stoner-like backpacker, he tries to keep her his little girl, but soon learns that kids have to grow up and not all humans are bad. Sure, it's full of monsters, but overall, this movie will only scare the littlest tots, who are more likely to laugh at the silly-looking creatures and emphasize with how very human they are.
Redheaded Merida and her triplet brothers have a close and loving family in "Brave," but when she accidentally changes her mother's life, things start to go wrong fast. This Pixar film isn't up there with their top offerings, and some scenes involving a bear can be scary for the littlest moviegoers. But that said, any Pixar film is head and furry shoulders above most other kid movies, and as long as a parent is sitting by the child's side, this one shouldn't be missed.
A small group of animals from the popular "Ice Age" series get separated from their families and must battle pirates and other menaces to reunite. Be warned, parents of sensitive little ones, this film features some creepy characters -- especially the shape-shifting sirens and Peter Dinklage voicing a toothy pirate ape -- but all's well that ends well.
The animals from the "Madagascar" series find themselves trapped in Europe unable to get home, so they join a circus. Some scenes along their quest are heart-pounding, hence the PG over G rating, but nothing scary lasts too long, and most of the film's zany slapstick and animal antics are fine for all audiences.
No animation in "Chimpanzee," which instead uses real jungle footage of real animals. There may be some real tears as well, as young Oscar loses his mom. That loss does occur off-screen, but can be heartbreaking for little ones unable to understand. Still, he's eventually adopted into a new family, and there's a happy ending.
As you might guess, since it's based on a Dr. Seuss book, there's nothing too scary or inappropriate for any age in "The Lorax." Although even before the film came out, Fox's Lou Dobbs said that it and "Secret World of Arrietty" were examples of "Hollywood once again trying to indoctrinate our children."
Two preschoolers who attended "Secret World of Arrietty" with our movies editor haven't stopped acting out the movie since. Moms and dads may recognize the story from their own childhood -- it's based on Mary Norton's "The Borrowers," about little people who live under the floorboards of our homes. Nothing is too frightening in the film, not even the cat shown here.
The name "Tintin" isn't well-known in America like it is in Europe, but this movie could change things. "The Adventures of Tintin" is a 3-D performance capture film in which young journalist Tintin and his trusty dog, Snowy, investigate a mystery involving a sunken ship. Older kids may want to go on this adventure, but it's a bit scary for young ones -- and a bit dry for adults.
Alvin, Simon, Theodore and The Chipettes take a cruise with pal Dave Seville (Jason Lee), but find trouble fast and end up shipwrecked. Don't expect genius humor -- a typical scene features Lee getting gravy spilled on his crotch -- but kids of a certain age and temperament find the Chipmunks cute.
Jason Segel, Amy Adams and a Muppet named Walter head to Hollywood to drag Kermit, Miss Piggy and the rest back on stage. Parents who grew up with Jim Henson's Muppets will love passing these characters on to their children, and the self-aware film is jam-packed with retro references and celebrity cameos.
Who knew Santa's organization had gotten so corporate? The elves and eldest Claus son Steve have it down to a science, but when a present is missed, it's klutzy younger son Arthur and scrappy Grand Santa who must come to the rescue. A charming twist on the old holiday stories.
The cheery penguins of Oscar-winning "Happy Feet" return for "Happy Feet Two." Shifting ice traps most of the penguin colony without food, and it's up to Mumble and friends to save them. The film's a bit long for wee ones, but is beautifully shot, and the 3-D is unobtrusive.
Antonio Banderas takes his "Puss in Boots" character from the "Shrek" films into a movie of its own. The swashbuckling kitty meets up with sexy Kitty Soft Paws (voice of Salma Hayek) and his childhood pal, Humpty Dumpty. Nothing too scary here for kids, and the 3-D is actually exceptional in this fun film.
Neil Patrick Harris plays the human who befriends "The Smurfs" as the 1980s cartoon leaps to the big screen. Unlike their earlier animated feature, "Smurfs and the Magic Flute," from 1983, this one isn't rated G. Still, it's only PG for "mild rude humor and action," so nothing should be too bad. Gargamel just isn't that frightening of a villain -- he's no Cruella De Vil.
No 3-D, no violence, no bad words, very little potential for nightmares. "Winnie the Pooh" and his pals from the Hundred Acre Wood are back, and for once, a movie studio listened to its heart. Nothing has been altered or modernized about A.A. Milne's charming characters, and even the youngest toddlers will likely love this movie.
If your kids loved the first "Cars," they've probably already been mooning over the sequel. In this one, Lightning McQueen and Mater head around the world to compete in a global Grand Prix. Nothing too scary here, though not every kid may be a fan of the four-wheeled friends.
Based on the famous children's book, "Mr. Popper's Penguins" shows how a man (Jim Carrey) turns his stressed-out life around when six penguins move in with him. It's rated PG for some rude humor and language, but even little ones will enjoy the wobbly, waddly birds.
Won't appeal to tots, but grade schoolers should be able to relate to "Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer." Third-grader Judy and brother Stink are stuck in town while all their friends go away to camp for the summer. But lively Aunt Opal (a wacky Heather Graham) livens things up quickly.
Po (the lively voice of Jack Black), Tigress (sultry Angelina Jolie) and the rest of the Furious Five are back in "Kung Fu Panda 2." It's rated PG due to the animated martial arts, but if your child saw the first one they won't be bothered by that. What may scare young ones is the storyline about Po learning he was adopted. Not the mere fact of adoption -- that's good to talk about -- but that his parents appear to have been killed in a peacock attack on their village. It's scary, but later on, a scene seems to hint that Po's parents may have survived.
Yes, that's Hansel and Gretel. "Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil" turns the fairy tale into an action film. The voices -- provided by Amy Poehler, Bill Hader, Joan Cusack, Martin Short and others -- are fabulous, but this fairy-tale mash-up isn't as fun as the "Shrek" series.
"African Cats" focuses on two families of big cats -- a lion pride and a cheetah family -- in the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya. It's over-narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, perhaps to help kids understand what's going on. That said, the images, especially of the adorable cheetah cubs, are delightful, but there's also a bloody zebra-eating scene that the AP reports made some families walk out.
"Born to be Wild" is fun in 3D, but if your child won't wear the glasses, it doesn't much matter. The extra dimension isn't really needed to tell the story of two admirable women, one who saves orphaned elephants and another who saves orphaned orangutans. Uplifting and at less than an hour, it won't stretch young attention spans.
Family friendly "Rio" tells a sweet story of a macaw from Minnesota named Blu who never learned to fly. But when he heads south to Rio to meet Jewel, the last female of his kind, he has to learn to soar in more ways than one. Although the birds are birdnapped, there's nothing too scary even for the youngest kids here. You may find them flapping their arms around the yard later, playing Blu and Jewel.
"Hop" is rated PG, but for no reason this mom and her toddler could ascertain. Not a scary moment in this sweet Easter-themed gem, and the cartoon violence is nowhere near as the Loony Tunes craziness we grew up on. This film will probably become an Eastertime staple, but note that the religious side of the holiday is never touched on, it's all jellybeans and bunnies and baskets and chicks.
Which kid hasn't wished their mom would just leave them alone? In the engagingly animated 2011 film "Mars Needs Moms," Milo does just that -- and lives to regret it when Martians snatch his mom to take care of their own little ones. His battle to get her back is engaging and colorful for grade-schoolers, but probably too much for toddlers and not of interest to teens.
The critics loved 2011's "Rango," which was immediately mentioned as a possible best picture nominee for next year's Oscars. But it's not really for the littlest kids, as its PG rating suggests. But for older kids, and adults, the visuals are breathtaking and the story humorous and sweet. Yes, that's Johnny Depp as the voice of chameleon Rango.
Shakespeare for toddlers? 2011's "Gnomeo and Juliet" may be based loosely on the Bard's play, but this romance involving lawn gnomes quickly writes its own script -- with a much happier ending, no double suicides here. Almost nothing scary, so kids of any age can watch, although some of the literary and other jokes will soar over their heads and hit their parents' funny bones.
Hard to believe Disney never got around to animating Rapunzel before 2010. "Tangled," which reportedly was called that because studio execs thought "Rapunzel" would scare off boys, is a beautiful hoot. Mandy Moore voices the long-haired princess, who has some real spirit, and Zachary Levi (from "Chuck") plays Flynn Rider. Flynn's no boring Disney prince -- he's a thief, which minimizes the mushy stuff.
Oh Woody, Buzz and the gang, how we love you. The trilogy about toys who have active lives when humans aren't looking started back in 1995, and the final film came out in 2010. There's one rather scary scene where it looks as if the toys are going to be burned up in an incinerator, but if kids can cover their eyes for a minute, everything ends happily. And adults will need Kleenex to get through the ending, where loyal owner Andy heads off to college, leaving his toys with a new family.
Steve Carell leaves bumbling Michael Scott at "The Office" to voice Mr. Gru in 2010's "Despicable Me." Gru is a supervillain with weirdly enormous shoulders and a laboratory full of dim but obedient yellow minions. He's battling his nemesis, a supervillain who looks shockingly like Bill Gates. But when Gru finds himself adopting three orphan girls, he slowly forgets about being a baddie and focuses on being a daddy. The story is sweet, and the pill-shaped minions keep the littlest viewers interested.
Two aminated supervillain movies in one year? 2010's "Megamind" didn't earn the critical love of that year's earlier release, "Despicable Me," but still, most of the reviews were positive. And since when have kids been offended by seeing the same film (or the same plot) twice? They watch the same "Yo Gabba Gabba" episode over and over again, for heaven's sake.
The goofy bear from the 1960s is a big-time movie star now, thanks to 2010's "Yogi Bear" film. Dan Aykroyd voices Yogi, and Justin Timberlake is his shorter and warier pal, Boo-Boo. No pic-a-nic basket is safe. Don't expect Pixar-style charms -- reviews were mostly negative, and at least one critic called the film "dumber than your average bear." For Hanna-Barbera completists only.
Obviously, not for the tot set. But the "Harry Potter" series seems to be getting better as it gets older. The final book, "Deathly Hallows," has been split into two films. The first part came out in 2010 and the second will arrive in November 2011. Fans of the book are thrilled because this means many of their favorite moments haven't been cut out, including a nice scene at Fleur and Bill's wedding.
Ramona Quimby is well-known to kids and parents from Beverly Cleary's beloved book series. Joey King brought her to life in 2010's "Ramona and Beezus," with Disney teen queen Selena Gomez as oft-exasperated sister Beezus, although we don't think Beezus of the books ever looked this much like a Teen Vogue model. Still, the film kept its family focus and sweet plot, and what kid can't identify with such trauma as losing a beloved cat, ruining picture day, and throwing up on the drums in music class.
It's midlife crisis time for Shrek. In 2010's "Shrek Forever After," the green ogre is married and dad to triplets, but each day seems to progress in the same boring style. So he makes the fairy-tale mistake of cutting a deal with a magic creature -- in this case, con artist Rumpelstiltskin -- and suddenly everything goes all "It's a Wonderful Life." But what's a magical world without Shrek in it? Thankfully, everything gets fixed in the end and Shrek is newly in love with his life and family. A sweet ending to the four-film series.
Vikings: They're more than just a football team. 2010's "How to Train Your Dragon" tells the tale of Viking teen Hiccup. He wants to follow in his clan's tradition as a dragonslayer, but then discovers he really likes the dragon he's found. The youngest tots might not go for this one, with all its talk of slaying and battles, but older ones will enjoy it.
What goes around, comes around. Parents who watched the 1984 "Karate Kid" with Ralph Macchio are now taking their kids to 2010's version, starring Will Smith's son, Jaden. If you've seen the first one, you know the plot -- young wimpy kid finds his strength when an old martial-arts master trains him for the big tournament against the bullies. This version is set in China, which adds a novel element. The fighting scenes are bloody and scary, but older grade-schoolers and up will appreciate the story of underdog who triumphs thanks to hard work and love.