Summer is here in full force, and whenever the kids aren't busy with the various demands of their camps and sports and "don't let them slide" school assignments, it's nice to just kick back and relax for a while. This week's picks are courtesy of my three kids, who yelled "stop!" every time I scrolled onto a movie they wanted to see on the various instant watch queues.
Rated G Pick: "Mulan" (1998, 87 minutes)
Kids Will Love: My 5-year-old son isn't a big fan of all the Disney Princesses, but he loves Mulan, because she's not just waiting around for her prince to sweep her off to happiness. Mulan is smart, brave, has impressive sword skills, and a guardian dragon. What could be better than that? And yes, she does have a romance, but it's not the focus of the story.
Parents Will Love: Mulan may hail from a notoriously patriarchal culture, but she challenges the belief that girls are only good in the domestic sphere. One of Disney's best role models, Mulan is a brave young woman who protects her father, pulls a Joan of Arc, and surprises everyone -- including herself -- with her skills as a warrior and a national hero. Girls need more movies like "Mulan."
Did You Know? Disney originally planned to make a short straight-to-video film called "China Doll," a Cinderella-esque story about a sad and oppressed Chinese girl who falls in love with an English man, who takes her back to the United Kingdom. But writer-director Robert Sans Souci convinced Disney to change the story to an adaptation of the poem "The Song of Fa Mu Lan." We're so glad he did!
Rated PG Pick: "Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer" (PG, 2011, 99 minutes)
Kids Will Love: Based on the popular chapter books, Judy is desperate to prove that she can have as awesome a summer break as her two friends, who are off at sleepaway camp or on exciting trips. It's full of silliness, kid-friendly jokes, and loads of gags and pranks that will make little kids giggle with glee, and make them hope to emulate Judy's plans for a "Not Bummer Summer." My daughter even wants to create a chart like Judy's.
Parents Will Love: It's based on a book, so no matter what grown ups may think of the actual movie, we guarantee elementary schoolers will be curious about the books (or want to read more of them, if they've already been exposed to author Megan McDonald's series). Seize the opportunity to talk to your kids about adaptations, and then head straight to the library for more of Judy's adventures.
Did You Know?: Judy's mischievous younger brother, "Stink," was so popular in the books that the author created a spinoff series aimed at early chapter-book readers. Those books offer a boy's take on Judy and Stink's family and schools, and are an excellent read for 5-8 year olds.
Teen Pick: "The Hunger Games" (PG-13, 2012, 142 minutes)
Teens Will Love: Based on an unputdownable book, the movie captures the same level of intensity and action. Dystopians are all the rage in young adult literature, and "The Hunger Games" is one of the best examples of the genre. Thanks to the fierce heroine Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and her charming fellow tribute Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), teens will find the story engrossing (albeit violent).
Parents Will Love: This is one of the best page-to-screen adaptations of a young adult book, and given the series' popularity, it's likely parents have read or heard of it, too. The acting is top notch, the story thought provoking, and the action unforgettable. So many teen targeted movies are mediocre, but director Gary Ross' treatment of "The Hunger Games" is worth watching even if you're completely unfamiliar with the books.
Did You Know? Donald Sutherland might be an award-winning actor, but he actually lobbied to play the role of President Snow. He had read the script and then wrote Gary Ross a letter explaining why he loved the story, which reminded him of "Paths of Glory," and wanted the part.