Can I Take the Kids? ‘The Star,’ Dickens, ‘Coco,’ ‘Wonder’ and More

Coco

Weekends are a great time to see movies, and there are some great movies out there, but are they good for the whole clan? Are there any concerns in them for Catholics?

So, with those questions in mind, here are some flicks to think about this coming weekend.

The Star

This charming animated, animal-centric Nativity story is the rare film that you can take grade-schoolers to, while the adults might also get some laughs.

It’s not making nearly as much money as it should. Christians are finally given an entertaining, fanciful yet respectful adaptation of the Christmas story, and they’re skipping it? Catholics are passing on a movie with a wonderful portrayal of Mary? Come on, people.

Here’s our review; some video interviews with the cast and Catholic director; and details from Common Sense Media.

The Man Who Invented Christmas

Dan Stevens of “Downton Abbey” stars as Charles Dickens in this delightful yarn, as the Victorian-era writer struggles to create “A Christmas Carol.” Most irritating for Dickens is that his characters, led by Scrooge (Christopher Plummer) have a habit of coming to life and pestering him.

It’s not a a religious Christmas movie, but it’s full of the spirit of love and generosity.

Click here for a full review, but in short, this one has some material that may not be suitable for little ones, but would appeal to older grade-schoolers and up, or just adults. Common Sense Media concurs.

Coco

Pixar’s Mexican-flavored Dia de los Muertos animated tale is not a Christmas film — as the holiday it’s centered on actually takes place on Oct. 31-Nov. 2 — but it’s as colorful as the Christmas season (and it’s raking in scads of green).

It’s a stunning achievement, but Catholic reviewer Deacon Steven Greydanus has reservations about its theology:

On Earth, and even in the afterlife, Mexico’s Catholic heritage has not been entirely effaced. There are church buildings and crosses on monuments in cemeteries and in homes. An image of Our Lady of Guadalupe adorns a wall in the home where our protagonist, 12-year-old Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez), lives with his extended family.

Miguel’s elderly, irascible Abuelita (Renée Victor) crosses herself, and someone says “Santa María!” I don’t remember any actual priests or nuns, but we see that there are movie priests and nuns in a clip of a film-within-the-film starring Miguel’s hero: the late, great Mexican guitarist and singer Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt), who not only sings and plays guitar in a Roman collar, but even flies like Superman.

Yet what good is Catholic iconography when the movie pretty explicitly stipulates that life after death is strictly a temporary affair, tied to earthly memory? A stopover in skeleton-land is one thing, as long as there’s some openness to the idea that this isn’t the end. A “final death” with no hint or hope of a further stage or life beyond seems to make a mockery of that image of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the crosses dotting the landscape.

Common Sense Media gives it a big thumbs-up, but Catholic parents may need to have a chat with their little ones about the Church’s view of the afterlife, heaven and eventual resurrection. This short explanation from EWTN might help.

Wonder

Based on the 2013 bestselling book by R.J. Palacio, this is a gentle, moving tale about a boy with facial deformities who faces the challenge of going to “real school.”

It’s rated PG, and the themes of bullying and acceptance may be hard for little ones. But middle-schoolers and up, with parental guidance, may find a lot to feel and talk about.

From Catholic News Service:

“Wonder” (Lionsgate) is a beautiful film about ugliness. Its protagonist is August “Auggie” Pullman (Jacob Tremblay), a 10-year-old boy born with facial deformities whose misshapen visage becomes a moral Rorschach test for the people around him.

This gentle, moving drama centers on Auggie’s struggle to win acceptance from his peers as he transitions from being educated at home to attending the fifth grade of his local middle school. But it also explores the lives of his supportive parents, Nate (Owen Wilson) and Isabel (Julia Roberts), and his loving older sister, Via (Izabela Vidovic).

Via gives Auggie unstinting affection despite the fact that his emotional needs have left her feeling overlooked by Mom and Dad.

And, here’s a video from a mom whose son, also in the video, has a similar condition to the fictional Auggie:

Lastly, a movie that’s definitely not for kids, but one that Catholics may love …

Lady Bird

This one is garnering lots of critical acclaim and Oscar buzz, and shockingly enough, for a mainstream movie with Catholic themes, it isn’t anti-Catholic. Writer-director Greta Gerwig isn’t Catholic, but she is Catholic-educated, and this is a semi-autobiographical tale.

It is a coming of age story for Christine, who’s dubbed herself “Lady Bird,” a smart, awkward Catholic high-school student (Saoirse Ronan) in Sacramento, California. She’s trying to figure out who she is, while negotiating a complex relationship with her mother (Laurie Metcalf), who is described as both “scary” and “warm.”

There’s rough language and sexual content, so it’s definitely not for the whole family. Common Sense Media rates it for ages 16 and above, but those who are weak in their faith may find it unsettling.

From The Hollywood Reporter:

The Catholic school experience is rendered with hilarity but, again, without meanness and even with a sprinkling of generosity. The senior nun on the staff (the wonderful Lois Smith) cuts through the BS to be real with Lady Bird, and great fun is had with the school’s theater productions; when the original faculty director of The Tempest bails out, he’s replaced by the school’s football coach, a loudmouth who rambunctiously illustrates how the Shakespearean drama will be staged by diagramming a chalkboard with X’s and O’s and firmly drawn arrows.

But Catholic News Service finds merit, with a caveat:

It’s no spoiler to point out that the movie’s conclusion, during which Lady Bird has finally achieved her dream of college in New York, shows a very strong old-school moral compass at work. It’s a redeeming wrap-up. But the problematic material that precedes it requires thoughtful discernment by grown viewers well-grounded in their faith.

UPDATE 12/01: Catholic News Agency has just released a review. Here’s a taste:

Gerwig does a remarkable job portraying a Catholic teenager torn between the “good girl” everyone expects her to be, and her growing desires to be different. The movie handles the complex emotions of teen romance and, yes, sex with discretion visually and powerful emotion. Its portrayal of the priests and nuns in her life are all uniformly positive, Lady Bird’s relationship with her mother may be occasionally contentious, but it also is one of the most positive portrayals of a teenage child/parent relationship in ages.

See you at the movies!

Image: Courtesy Disney/Pixar

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