With school holidays upon us once again, theatres are serving up great kid stuff, writes Jane Horwitz.
6 years + Finding Dory (PG)
Swimming alongside the rich humour, quirky characters and oceanic treats in Finding Dory is a more melancholy undertow than in the G-rated Finding Nemo (2003). This film is fine for kids 6 and older, but it may trigger their emotions more than parents expect.
Its PG rating reflects a vein of sadness that was not mined as deeply in the first film. Without sermonising, it also embodies the idea of accepting all differently abled creatures as integral to life. Never fear - the film is still a treat and has a hugely happy ending - but getting there involves some emotional leaps. It's a year after the events in the first film. Dory the blue tang (voiced by Ellen DeGeneres) lives with Marlin the clownfish (Albert Brooks) and his son, Nemo, as her surrogate family. Dory has short-term memory loss, but a sudden recollection tells her the parents she became separated from long ago (shown in a poignant flashback) are in California.
Marlin and Nemo go with her to find them. Near the (real) Marine Life Institute, Dory gets captured and plopped in a tank. While Marlin and Nemo try to get in, Dory makes friends with Hank (Ed O'Neill), a crabby octopus; Destiny (Kaitlin Olson), a nearsighted whale shark; and Bailey (Ty Burrell), a beluga whale. (97 minutes)
The bottom line: The youngest kids might worry during a few scenes near the end, when the fish heroes find themselves in a crazy highway escapade far from seawater, or feel sad as Dory gets lost and feels alone.
8 years + The BFG (PG)
The big heart and quirky language in Roald Dahl's classic 1982 kids' novel translate quite nicely into Steven Spielberg's 3D adaptation.
At times overstuffed and awkwardly paced, it is nevertheless a fine diversion, with an eccentric look, a romantic soundtrack and a crackerjack cast. Kids 8 and older, whether they know the book or not, should find the movie enjoyably odd and deliciously scary.
Ten-year-old Sophie (Ruby Barnhill), a brainy, bespectacled insomniac, lives in an orphanage in London. One late night she looks out on the street and spies a huge, cloaked figure (Mark Rylance, digitally altered), as tall as the buildings, blowing silently on a trumpety thing into bedrooms. He sees Sophie, snatches her up and galumphs away to Giant Country.
Sophie learns he's the Big Friendly Giant, which she shortens to the BFG. He's a sweet soul who speaks deliciously fractured English, eats gross-looking snozzcumbers and devotes his life to blowing good dreams into kids' bedrooms. His more enormous neighbours are people-eating giants, bullies with such names as Fleshlumpeater.
Sophie insists they go to the queen (Penelope Wilton) in Buckingham Palace for help. (117 minutes)
The bottom line: There are many shivery moments, from when the BFG first grabs Sophie to confrontations with the people-eating giants - cannibals who "is guzzling human beans," as the BFG says.
But the movie does not show them doing that. They are fearsome, and they sniff out humans, but they only talk about eating them. We do hear a newspaper account about children disappearing, their bones left behind. The giants bully the BFG horribly.
• The BFG opens in New Zealand this Thursday.
13 years + Independence Day: Resurgence (M)
Almost entirely incoherent in both its science and its fiction, this 20-years-after sequel has enough big effects and action to keep teen sci-fi buffs entertained but not challenged.
It would help if they checked out the original Independence Day (1996), as quite a few characters return.
Those who saved Earth from alien invaders in 1996 remain haunted by the experience and sense it's about to happen again. In Area 51, a captured alien held in suspended animation re-animates violently, while an eccentric scientist (Brent Spiner) suddenly wakes from a 20-year coma.
Huge alien ships destroy a moon base, vaporise leaders on Earth, suck up whole cities and drill toward Earth's core. A special bomber squadron must fly into the lead ship to kill the alien queen.
Former president Whitmore (Bill Pullman) limps out of retirement. Oddball scientist David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) rejoins the team. And cocky young pilots Jake (Liam Hemsworth) and Dylan (Jessie T. Usher, as the son of Will Smith's 1996 character) suit up. (120 minutes)
The bottom line: The special-effects action shows no truly graphic violence; deaths are implied from a distance.
Climactic scenes late in the film show the reptilian aliens in full menace and emitting slime when impaled.
The script features a few S-words and brief, understated sexual innuendo.