parent’s guide

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day: A Parent’s Guide

Last week we were invited by Disney to check out “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good Day”, their new family film staring Steve Carell and Jennifer Garner.

Alexander is sick and tired of being the non-perfect member of his perfect family. Dad is a baby-and-me-going, birthday-party-planning, stay-at-home-super-dad aka “Fommy” (Father Mommy as coined by his yoga instructor). Mom is a hot shot at book publisher, his older brother is handsome and popular, and his older sister is the angelic voiced star of the school play. His baby brother is an adorable and because of his age, needs (and gets) a lot of attention.

The main conflict comes when a popular boy at Alexander’s school announces that he is throwing a huge birthday party the same day Alexander had planned his. Not only is Alexander’s crush planning on attending the rival’s party, so is Alexander’s best friend! Feeling jealous and sad, Alexander makes a wish on his birthday candle that his “perfect” family would understand what it’s like to have a day as bad as one of his.

And WHAT a bad day each of them has! As a parent I really, really laughed at the challenges Alexander’s Dad felt having to drag the baby to a job interview at a way younger-skewing video game company. Alexander’s mom has to commute across town on a bicycle in high heels to prevent a disastrous book reading with a mis-printed children’s book.

His siblings don’t fare much better. His sister, trying to soothe a flu before opening night, drinks a bit too much cough syrup and performs Peter Pan while inebriated. His brother suffers a misunderstanding with his girlfriend and then fails his driver’s exam in the most spectacular fashion possible.

So, should you bring your 5 year old to see “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good Day”?

I brought Super-Dad and seven year old Kitty along. Kit had a hard time waiting for the punchlines. It all just seemed very extreme and mildly upsetting to her, she was just a bit too young to really enjoy the schadenfreude inherent in a comedy of errors. There were definitely moments where she laughed, but they weren’t as frequent as SD and I. Some of the themes were a bit too more mature for her as well. Certainly nothing too objectionable, just a little “old” for her. There was a bit of cyberbullying, some rough language “crap, idiot”, and the young teen sister accidentally gets drunk on cough syrup.

Younger kids may not get some of the more subtle aspects of the movie messages; like how members of the family can have trouble seeing and empathizing with the problems others are having. While Alexander is convinced his family lives perfect lives, in reality they all have their own “No Good” worries. Dad is worried about finding a job, while mom is worried that a new opportunity at work will leave her even less time for her family. Big Brother Anthony is struggling to placate a status-hungry girlfriend. Sister Emily has a lot of pressure on her from her school’s Drama Director. Everyone is so caught up in their own issues it’s hard for them to see that each of their family members are having their own problems. Bigger kids hopefully will understand that the message here is that NO ONE has a perfect day. The resolution of the film actually comes when the family is able to come together to handle their “Terrible, Horrible, Very Bad, No Good Day” as a team.

14 year old Nate, was having his own “terrible, no good day” on a mandated tent camping trip with school. It’s a shame, too. I think that this movie is perfectly suited for his age. While there is nothing too objectionable for younger kids, I think kids 10 – 14 and their parents will get the most enjoyment from this adorable flick.

Parent’s Guide: Brave

Parent’s Guide: Brave

Last night we had the chance to see Disney Pixar’s Brave as part of the Seattle International Film Festival.  I sit on the SIFF Parent Committee and we were so thrilled a few months ago when SIFF programmers told us that they would be screening it a full twelve days before its release.

Brave tells the story of Scottish Princess Merida as she fights her mother’s wish to marry her off to a member of an allied clan.  Obsessed with destiny, Merida turns to the supernatural to try and change hers with disastrous effect.  To fix what went wrong, she must take her mother on an adventure where they learn the importance of listening and compromise.

There’s been a lot of talk about what a strong character Merida is.  And indeed, seeing a princess who is not only proficient in combat arts but actively fights against being paired up with “Prince Charming” was refreshing.  The only love story in the film was the one between Merida and her mother.  The mother/daughter relationship was so well written and some of the aforementioned tears were the result of being reminded of my own teenage interactions with my mother.  Teenagers can be cruel, parents can be angry and unyielding. 

At times it was laugh out loud funny, other times it was scary, and I spent about 25 of the 90 minute running time sobbing.  It had adventure, suspense, and sentimentality.  It was Pixar’s doing its best at everything Pixar does best.

So…”Can I take my five year old to see Brave?”  I’d say “yes”, with a few caveats.  There are some scary scenes with vicious bears (there are also plenty of cute scenes with bears).  Kitty was scared and grabbed my arm, but didn’t get so upset that we had to leave.  There was a younger child in the theater who cried during some of the more intense scenes. There are a few a lot of animated bottoms shown. There is a scene involving a cleavage joke.  There was a real fear at the end (even for me) that the main conflict was not going to be resolved in a tidy way.  It’s pretty typically Pixar in that there is genuine suspense.  I’d say it’s fine for most kids 5 and up.

Parent’s Guide: Can I take my kids to see Men In Black: 3

The MIB franchise is fourteen years old. I swore we took Nate to see it one rainy weekend on the Ocean City, NJ boardwalk, but Super-Dad reminded me that that was actually MIB:II, which itself was released in 2002.  So yeah, this is newest installment is part of franchise in which the last film came out over 10 years ago. Due to the seemingly endless playing of both films on cable it seems like even kids too young to remember the movies are aware and interested in the franchise, but should you take them?

This installment got back to the feel of the first MIB film.  It does its best to move on from the mostly panned second movie in the series, though the heavy handed “celebrities are aliens” theme plays a major part in this one as well.  Will Smith is at his best playing the mouthy Agent J, and Josh Brolin was absolutely uncanny playing a younger version of Tommy Lee Jones’ Agent K.

I took 5 year old Kitty this morning, and she had never seen a MIB film.  I was afraid that she’d be bored, that the time-travel storyline would fly over her head, or that she would find the alien special-effects as you can see from her (slightly rambling – she’s five) review below she mostly followed along.

There is a fair amount of mild swearing (and one “shit”).  Jemaine Clemant (channeling Tim Curry) as baddie Boris the Animal  has some parasitic creatures that move in and out of his body, the special effects are convincing and may make more sensitive viewers queasy.  The violence is prevalent but very cartoony.  No human people bleed, though they do get smacked around.

The story line involves time-travel and there are a lot of jokes about the cultural climate of the 60’s will go over the heads of the pre-teen audience.  There is big scene involving race relations, which could be great talking point, though it’s dealt with humorously.  I was worried that the time-travel aspect would be confusing, but I think that Kitty got the gist of it.  I heard a kid leaving the theater declare it “awesome” while their adult companion just kinda nodded in agreement; which about sums it up from an adult point It was entertaining, but mostly forgettable.

So…. “Can I take my 5 year old to see Men in Black 3?”: I’d say this one is fine for ages 8 and up, but that if your child is easily scared by monsters/aliens you may want to wait and watch this one at home in the daylight.