Since my youngest turned 3, we've added "going to the movies" to our list of favorite family pastimes. So just in time for the holidays, when many more families reconnect by watching, renting or buying movies, here is my ranking of the children's movies I saw in theatres with my kids this past year.
#1 The Muppet Movie
The Muppets are still their charming, wholesome, zany selves, gaining a new generation of fans as well as staying exactly the same for those of us who grew up watching them. In fact, I felt so nostalgic I left the film wondering, "What did happen to the Muppets? Why have they been out of our lives for so long?" As for the film's PG status, there were a couple of scenes that could've easily been cut to give it a G rating. All in all, The Muppets is a great film for everyone in the family.
#2 Puss in Boots
"The story of a cat who became a hero" begins with Puss as a self-described outlaw. We are taken back to the past when Puss is just a sweet kitten at an orphanage and other childhood nursery rhyme characters are introduced in a fresh way. Also, the soundtrack had me dancing in my seat! Two intense action scenes coupled with a few mature story lines lead me to recommend it to viewers over 7.
#3 Diary of a Wimpy Kid 2: Rodrick Rules
Instead of middle school, Greg must navigate the dynamics of his family this time. The double entendre of the title sets up the rules Greg must adhere to if he wants to get along in his brother Rodrick's world, yet it's also a hint Rodrick is a pretty cool brother after all. Unlike the first film, we get to see a more human side of Rodrick. I actually liked this sequel better than the somewhat depressing part 1.
#4 Mr. Popper's Penguins
Despite having funny man Carrey starring, the laughs in Mr. Popper's Penguins come mostly from the penguins. I'm glad the superficial references to the parents' divorce and business dealings don't go any deeper. This film is still recommended for kids of all ages.
#5 Judy Moody and the NOT Bummer Summer
Based on the Judy Moody book series by Megan McDonald, Judy desperately wants her summer after third grade to be the best yet, until she learns all her friends will be away. Judy is an imperfect heroine, reminiscent of Ramona Quimby or Anne of Green Gables. She and her pals are the opposite of moody; they are an absolute delight. Still, kids over 11 might be bored.
#6 The Smurfs
Without compromising any of the 1980s television show's charm, sweetness, humor or naiveté, this movie is modernized with young viewers still in mind. There are strong themes that won't be lost on kids either: loyalty, self-respect, and what it takes to be a good father, just to name a few. Some magic scenes with Gargamel might be a little scary for viewers under 5.
#7 Spy Kids: All the Time in the World
This film is about GIRL POWER. The females are all one-dimensionally strong and smart, while the boys and men just bumble. Still, it has great special effects and a somewhat redeeming story line in the end. The language is fine, except for one scene when the original spy kid, Carmen, yells, "Oh, SHI-take mushroom!" My boys knew just what he meant. Overall, I recommend this movie to kids 7 and over only with adult supervision.
#8 Arthur Christmas
A spacecraft replaces Santa's sleigh and savvy elves rappel from the sky to deliver gifts to every good boy and girl. It's an interesting idea, but I think a 10-minute children's book would be plenty. Some things just shouldn't be touched, and Santa is one of them. Let kids believe in the magic of Santa as we've known him for generations just a little bit longer. This film is a little too cynical for kids under 10.
#9 Happy Feet 2
Even more star power this time around (Brad Pitt, Pink, etc.), cool special effects and a catchy soundtrack can't make up for a boring, disjointed plot. When I asked my 7-year-old to tell me what it was about he said, "It's about penguins trying to stay alive." I could've sworn he yawned. Let's just say this movie isn't as happy as the original.
#10 Kung Fu Panda 2
Po's mission to save China packs this sequel with gratuitous violence. Bully taunts like "stupid" and "idiot" are said excessively throughout too. The only reason the film isn't rated PG-13 is because it's animated. It left me missing the sweet Po we came to know and love in the original - there wasn't nearly enough of him in part 2.
#11 Cars 2
Much lonelier than the first film, when friends were plentiful and always there to lend a hand, Tow Mater is the star this time and he is left to figure things out on his own as he unknowingly becomes embroiled in a spy scheme in strange new lands. The special effects are stunning, but they don't make up for the anti-American sentiments or weak plot. What a disappointment after the fantastic Cars.
Julie Samrick is a stay-at-home mom of 4 young kids and the founder of Kid Focused, a site devoted to children and family issues. Subscribe to the free Kid Focused newsletter delivered weekly to your inbox. Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com