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The Best to Worst Kids' Movies of 2012

Julie Samrick
Kid Focused

It's hard to compare movies aimed toward older kids to ones that are made for the under-7 crowd.  Still, in 2012 there were a few movies that had such strong stories that they are 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 older children. Click on each movie title for a more detailed review.
#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 (during which it would be easy to have young children look away).
#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, 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: The Mysterious Island

Treasure Island, Gulliver's Travels, and ancient stories about the Nautilus and the lost city of Atlantis are decoded for kids over 8.   I was tickled to get home and see many of those books all checked out of the library.
#8 Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted

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 under 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 in several different parts.
#10 Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

I think teens and young adults today just may pick up some Sir Arthur Conan Doyle after seeing A Game of Shadows. The formula he mastered over 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

It is the behemoth of bureaucracy that is the enemy in the film and in real life too - tons of red tape is what 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 Bros.-loving sons did. The only reason viewers with kids over 7 should flock to the theater to see Wreck-It Ralph is for the visuals.
#13 The Odd Life of Timothy Green

This movie is sweet, but not as magical or nearly as funny as E.T.
#14 Frankenweenie

As is typical with Tim Burton films, this movie is dark. In fact, it's really scary for kids under 10.  For older children, the ethics of science can be discussed after viewing it, and for parents who'd like to take the learning opportunities even further, I suggest reading Mary Shelley's Frankenstein aloud with your child before or after watching Frankenweenie and enjoy comparing and contrasting the two stories.
#15 The Pirates! Band of Misfits

Mostly just a silly film - think the Airplane movies with pirates.  However, the one-liners aren't nearly as funny as the ones in Airplane.
#16 Katy Perry: Part of Me

In the first five minutes of the movie, Katy is trying on various costumes when she yelps, "This one makes my ass look like Nicki Minaj!" The enhancement of her chest in many costumes and the performances to songs with lyrics like "I wanna see your peacock!" are just too suggestive for the bubblegum 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 which 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 on exposing them to this violent film, which is much more so than the book.
#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 under 10.
#22 Rise of the Guardians

As we left the theater, the first thing my 6-year-old asked was, "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 makes you think it's a lighthearted kids' film, but it's really 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 Dwarfs' 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 that princess movies don't need to have lots of pink or even (for the first time) a romantic love story. What I didn't expect was for Brave to go so far as to be anti-male and anti-marriage to push its message.
#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 PG-13, but it should have an R rating.  There are multiple graphic sex scenes and several more scenes set to pole dancing in strip clubs.

Julie Samrick is a stay-at-home mom of four 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 and connect with us on Facebook too.  Permission granted for use on

Tags: God, Kids, Movie Review, Parenting, PG-13 Rating, Religion, Values
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