It’s hard to compare movies aimed toward older kids to ones that are for the younger than 7 crowd. Still, in 2012 there were a few movies that had such strong stories they’re sure to be remembered as classics suited for the whole family. Only G, PG and PG-13 movies were considered. Movies were ranked lower for sexual content and violence and higher for having strong messages for kids and/or leading characters who served as role models. Some were ranked lower because they are only suited for certain members of the family and wouldn’t be ideal for family movie night.
1. “Life of Pi” The great coming-of-age classics like “The Black Stallion” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” come to mind. A boy’s adventures teach him about life and its big questions too. There is one shipwreck scene and animals turning on each other for survival that could scare the very young.
2. “War Horse” The various young people who own Joey in the early 20th century may face poverty, loneliness or disease, yet the horse is there to uplift them. This film came out on Christmas Day 2011, but wasn’t seen by many until 2012.
3. “The Lorax” There are timeless environmental themes, but also lessons about greed, making amends, and teamwork that won’t be lost on kids older than 6.
4. “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” The film may differ from the 1937 classic children’s book by J.R.R. Tolkien, but the essence of both versions, chiefly Bilbo’s physical and even more important personal odyssey as he grows from a simple homebody to a confident adventurer, are the same. This movie is more violent than the book, but the violence isn’t often or gratuitous except for one scene at the very end.
5. “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days” Greg is a mini Ferris Bueller — and just like Ferris went out of his way to innocently trick authority. The kind of excitement Greg seeks is pretty mundane too, while still capturing the middle school angst many tweens and teens feel today.
6. “Ice Age 4: Continental Drift” Kids 6 and older will see that not even a seismic shift has to separate us from the ones we love. The main character played by Ray Romano is a strong leader of his family, seldom seen in movies and television today.
7. “Journey 2” “Treasure Island,” “Gulliver’s Travels” and ancient stories like “The Nautilus” and about the lost city of Atlantis are decoded for kids older than 8. I was tickled to get home and see many of those books are all checked out of the library.
8. “Madagascar 3” The story becomes interesting once the crew collects themselves to help their new friends revitalize a has-been European circus. Because of mature dialogue, some violence and quick action sequences, this film earns its PG rating and isn’t for kids younger than 6.
9. “Hotel Transylvania” After more than a century of running a thriving hotel, single dad, Dracula, plans his daughter’s 118th coming of age party while going to great lengths to keep her his dependent, baby girl. I’d hold off on showing kids younger than 8 this movie, though, because it can be frightening.
10. “Sherlock Holmes” I think teens and young adults today just may pick up some Arthur Conan Doyle after seeing “A Game of Shadows.” The formula he mastered more than 100 years ago in his books is still just as fun and relevant today. This movie came out at the very end of 2011, garnering a place on our 2012 list.
11. “Won’t Back Down” The behemoth of bureaucracy is the enemy in this film and in real life too — so much red tape keeps many concerned citizens quiet about their neighborhood schools. This film is a reminder that we can all take action and high school aged kids can join in the conversation after watching it.
12. “Wreck-It Ralph” I appreciated seeing old friends like Pac Man and Frogger on the screen more than my young, 21st Century, Mario Brothers-loving sons did. The only reason viewers with kids older than 7 should flock to the theatre to see “Wreck it Ralph” is for the visuals.
13. “The Odd Life of Timothy Green” The movie is sweet, but not as magical or nearly as funny as E.T.
14. “Frankenweenie” As is typical for Tim Burton films, this movie is dark. In fact, it’s really scary for kids younger than 10. For older children, the ethics of science could be discussed with it and for parents who’d like to take the learning opportunities even further I suggest reading Mary Shelly’s “Frankenstein” aloud with your child before or after watching “Frankenweenie”and enjoy comparing and contrasting the two stories.
15. “Pirates! Band of Misfits” Mostly just a silly film — think Airplane movies with pirates, though the one-liners aren’t as funny.
16. “Katy Perry: Part of Me” Katy’s costumes and the performances to songs like “I wanna see your peacock!” are just too suggestive for the bubble gum pop audience it tries to reach.
17. “Sparkle” The PG-13 rating comes with escalating heavy material that shouldn’t be seen by younger children. While the beginning of Sparkle is tame, there are eventually scenes showing drug use and domestic violence. The scenes with drug use aren’t glorified, but shown in the light of how talented people can so easily waste their dreams.
18. “Snow White and the Huntsman” Though more Grimm than Disney, the original choices to enhance this classic story are smart.
19. “Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 2” Self-control is a theme that runs throughout the film, perfectly aimed at its teen fan base. Not meant for younger kids.
20. “The Hunger Games” Satisfying to teens, but since young kids won’t relate to the strong feelings of angst I’d hold off exposing them to this violent film.
21. “The Avengers” Superhero lovers will be pleased, but with too many characters to keep track of it’s also much too violent for kids younger than 10.
22. “Rise of the Guardians” As we left the theatre, the first thing my 6-year-old asked: “Is Santa Claus real?” It spoils the wonder for kids who still believe.
23. “We Bought a Zoo” The rare visits with the zoo animals aren’t spotlighted enough. The title misleads that it’s a lighthearted kids’ film — a depressing yawner.
24. “Mirror, Mirror” In this cynical retelling of the classic fairytale, home-cooked meals aren’t enough to endear Snow White to the seven dwarves’ or garner her a permanent seat at their table. The little men with names like Chuck, Wolf and Grub tell her, “To live with us, you’ll have to be a thief like us,” setting up scenes that go on far too long.
25. “Brave” I expected “Brave” to be a tough, girl power film, and it is. It also proves princess movies don’t have to have lots of pink or even (for the first time) a romantic love story. What I didn’t expect is for “Brave” to go so far as to be anti-male and anti-marriage. This movie leaves out the boy audience.
26. “Rock of Ages” If it weren’t for the great soundtrack and fresh twist on the songs, I wouldn’t recommend this movie at all. It’s PG13, but it should have an R-rating. There are multiple graphic sex scenes and several more scenes set to pole dancing in strip clubs.