"Mockingjay – Part 1" is rated PG-13 for its violent and frightening sequences. Even if you have a younger fan of the books at home, consider whether they're ready for the grim violence and pervasive sadness contained in the movie. For teens who've already read and seen the first two movies, this is the must-see movie of the holiday season.
1. Read it then see it: "Mockingjay" is the final book in Suzanne Collins's "Hunger Games" trilogy, and like "Deathly Hallows" and "Breaking Dawn," the concluding novel has been treated to a two-part film. The penultimate of the movies will be easy to follow if you saw the first two movies, but it will make much more sense (particularly when it comes to some of the subtext between the characters. If you've read the first two books but aren't sure about the last one (it's a pretty divisive book), you could see it first and then read it without being completely spoiled, since the movie doesn't give away the climactic end of the book. Or, you could start it today and still finish it in time to see the movie opening weekend; it's a very different storyline than the first two (no more Games, much more strategy, war, and character development), but it's worth exploring if you want to know what happens to Katniss.
2. How does your kid handle violence in movies?: If you've seen the first two movies, you already know this is a violent series. The difference between "Mockingjay" and its preceding titles is that the other movies focus on the violence of the Arena, and now there is no Arena, just the reality of war and rebellion. Katniss witnesses the utter destruction of her beloved District 12 (she literally stands on a pile of bones); she sees first-hand how the Capitol targets unarmed citizens in a makeshift hospital; and she joins the revolution, using fancy arrows Beetee made specifically for the Mockingjay. The body count is high, and some of the death scenes are disturbing, like the execution of bound and gagged "traitors," and Katniss is nearly killed. Kids who get queasy at the sight of bloodied or dead characters (mostly extras), may not be ready to see the film.
3. Do you worry about sex/language? Despite the PG-13 rating and the realistic, upsetting violence, there's really no strong language in "Mockingjay – Part 1," and there's barely any kissing in this second-to-last sequel. Sorry Team Peeta, as you probably already know, Katniss kisses her best friend Gale again, but don't worry, it's more of a pity kiss than a kiss of passion. And as for Peeta, Katniss spends the majority of the movie pining for and crying over him, but the romance definitely not the driving theme of the story. If you only care about the love triangle, this movie definitely doesn't resolve anything but that Katniss is too emotionally fragile to think about love; she leaves that to Finnick, who is firmly in a serious relationship with Annie, who like Peeta, is a hostage in the Capitol.
4. Who will enjoy the movie most?: Obviously teen readers of the books will be begging to see the movie (chances are they've already seen it, given the number of early Thursday night showtimes), but if you have a voracious reader who finished the trilogy at 8 or 9 (even though a media specialist told me it's not recommended for elementary-school libraries), consider whether she is mature enough to see the film adaptations. Research shows that seeing violence depicted on screen is different than reading and imagining it from the page. Ultimately, if your kids are 11 & up and are already fans of Suzanne Collins' trilogy, they're probably ready to handle "Mockingjay." When in doubt, just wait. You can always catch it in a few months when you can stream, rent or buy the movie.
5. What are critics saying about "Mockingjay"? Reviews have been generally favorable for the third installment in the dystopian trilogy, although not as universally glowing as "Catching Fire." It has a 69 on Rotten Tomatoes and a 63 at Metacritic. Critic Cory Darling of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram sums up the consensus: "If it's more talky and less satisfying than its predecessor, the propulsive The Hunger Games: Catching Fire - largely because the conclusion won't come until next year with Part 2 - it's still a sporadically involving adventure." Peter Travers of Rolling Stone says: " OK, there's less action in Games this time, but what's there is prime. And the acting is aces." On the flip side, Kenneth Turan captures the slightly disappointed opinion of some critics, "Lawrence delivers on what dramatic beats half a novel affords him. You just wish there were more of them and that they provided a more complete, more satisfying story arc."