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Family Movie Guide

This guide covers "family films" plus movies that could become blockbusters or may especially pique the interest of teenagers. Only films with G ratings are tagged as all-family fare by Hollywood. Most have stronger MPAA ratings that call for extra alertness from parents.

During the summer, this guide for families and the Monitor's more comprehensive movie guide will appear on alternate Fridays.

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Our star ratings (see below) indicate the overall quality of movies, not their suitability for children.

Rating Meaning

o Forget it

* Poor

** Fair

*** Good

**** Excellent

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Monitor panel ratings reflect the sometimes diverse views of at least three viewers. Look for more guidance in our full reviews. Panel ratings are listed at the end of each review.

The Adventures of Pinocchio [G]

**** Directed by Steve Barron. With Martin Landau, Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Genevieve Bujold, Udo Keir, Bebe Neuwirth. Running time: 96 minutes. ****

PLOT A puppeteer carves a piece of wood into a marionette that comes to life and has many adventures before turning into a real boy.

MESSAGE Being true to yourself and avoiding temptation are the best routes to true happiness in life.


VIOLENCE Scenes of fighting between Pinocchio and human beings who give him a hard time, a frightening fire scene, a harrowing escape from the belly of the sea monster, and a scary scene where naughty boys turn into animals at a nightmarish amusement park.

DRUGS/ALCOHOL One brief scene with champagne.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame [G]

**** Directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise. With the voices of Tom Hulce, Demi Moore, Kevin Kline. Running time: 86 minutes. ***

Plot Victor Hugo's tragic hero becomes a candidate for the Seven Dwarfs, frolicking with cute little gargoyles when he isn't busy helping a handsome soldier save a beautiful gypsy from an evil judge.

MESSAGE Have confidence in yourself even when your good qualities aren't appreciated.


VIOLENCE Four scenes involve attempted stabbings, and at one point, the hero appears to have been killed by an arrow. Villain finally falls into pool of molten iron.

DRUGS/ALCOHOL Two scenes with wine drinking.

Emma [PG]

*** Directed by Douglas McGrath. With Gwyneth Paltrow, Greta Scacchi, Juliet Stevenson, Ewan McGregor, Toni Collette, Alan Cumming, Jeremy Northam, Polly Walker. Running time: 120 minutes.

PLOT A self-confident young woman decides to while away her time by playing matchmaker for a friend whose romantic life would fare much better without interference.

MESSAGE Good intentions can go astray, but things will turn out well if people try to get along and never give up hope.

SEX None.

VIOLENCE One mildly violent scene when some characters are attacked by thieves.


DRUGS/ALCOHOL Some wine sipping.

Harriet the Spy [PG]

*** Directed by Bronwen Hughes. With Michelle Trachtenberg, Rosie O'Donnell, Robert Joy, Eartha Kitt. Running time: 96 minutes. ***

PLOT A sixth-grade girl loves to watch the world and jot her observations in a notebook, but grown-ups are unhappy when this interferes with school and kids complain when her writing criticizes them.

MESSAGE Creativity is fine, but it should be balanced with other parts of life.


VIOLENCE Harriet slaps a classmate across the face; scary pictures are seen in a book.

PROFANITY A little vulgar talk.

Matilda [PG]

*** Directed by Danny DeVito. With Mara Wilson, Danny DeVito, Rhea Perlman, Embeth Davidtz, Pam Ferris. Running time: 96 minutes. **

PLOT The heroine is astonishingly smart, and on top of this she develops psychic powers, using them to defeat bad grown-ups including an evil principal who literally tortures the children in her school.

MESSAGE A good friend can help you get through terrible challenges. Revenge against bad people is justified, even when the targets are your parents.

SEX None.

VIOLENCE A great deal of cartoonish violence, including physical assaults by a principal on her pupils (at least two students are tossed out the window, though no one is hurt); a girl locked in a torture chamber; and attacks by the heroine on grown-ups, using psychic powers to manipulate objects.



Phenomenon [PG]

*** Directed by Jon Turteltaub. With John Travolta, Robert Duvall, Forest Whitaker, Kyra Sedgwick. Running time: 117 minutes. ***

PLOT An ordinary man gets zapped by a mysterious light-flash and acquires a lightning-quick mind, an unquenchable appetite for knowledge, and the ability to move objects at a distance - all of which frightens his friends and neighbors.

MESSAGE The human spirit is greater and has more potential than can be understood by technologies and philosophies that try to explain it in material or mystical terms.

SEX Brief nudity - a person moons someone.

VIOLENCE One scene in which a character slides a beer mug across the bar into other patrons.

PROFANITY About seven instances.

DRUGS/ALCOHOL A number of bar scenes where patrons are drinking.

OTHER Discussion of the hero's medical condition, and a bittersweet ending involving death.

Chain Reaction [PG-13]

** Directed by Andrew Davis. With Keanu Reeves, Morgan Freeman, Rachel Weisz, Fred Ward, Brian Cox, Kevin Dunn. Running time: 100 minutes.

PLOT A bright young physicist plays a dangerous cat-and-mouse game with a CIA agent who believes the world isn't quite ready for the plentiful new energy source our hero is cooking up.

MESSAGE Fight for your beliefs, with violence if necessary, and even an enemy may eventually see things from your perspective.

SEX None.

VIOLENCE Many fights, killings, and explosions.

PROFANITY Some four-letter words.

DRUGS/ALCOHOL Some drinking.

Independence Day [PG-13]

** Directed by Roland Emmerich. With Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Mary McDonnell, Margaret Colin, Randy Quaid, Judd Hirsch, Harvey Fierstein, Adam Baldwin, Vivica A. Fox. Running time: 145 minutes. ***

PLOT A soldier, a scientist, a crop-dusting pilot, and the president of the United States are among the heroes who save Earth in a battle with outer-space invaders.

MESSAGE People can pull together when faced with a common enemy.

SEX About five sexual situations; one scene in a striptease club.

VIOLENCE 17 instances, from the destruction of American landmarks to the president firing on a craft from a fighter jet.

PROFANITY About 25 instances.

DRUGS/ALCOHOL At least 12 instances, including six with cigars. One character is always drunk.

Jack [PG-13]

** Directed by Francis Ford Coppola. With Robin Williams, Diane Lane, Jennifer Lopez, Fran Drescher, Bill Cosby, Brian Kerwin. Running time: 117 minutes.

PLOT A boy is maturing at four times the normal rate, and his parents wrestle with the problems of raising a 10-year-old kid in a full-grown body.

MESSAGE Be tolerant of people who seem different from you, and live in the present without worrying about the future.

SEX A great deal of innuendo; discussion of sexual topics, including the gap between the hero's mental and physical ages; and a seduction scene between him and a mature woman.

VIOLENCE Fighting.

PROFANITY Many vulgar expressions.

DRUGS/ALCOHOL A scene in a bar with drinking.

Kingpin [PG-13]

** Directed by Peter Farrelly and Bobby Farrelly. With Woody Harrelson, Randy Quaid, Vanessa Angel, Bill Murray. Running time: 113 minutes. **

PLOT A washed-up hustler tempts a gifted bowler to leave his Amish community, which needs money to save its farmland from foreclosure, and get rich by literally gambling on his talent.

MESSAGE Even sleazy people may eventually do good things, and in some cases the ends can justify the means.

SEX Much innuendo, many sex-related jokes, and a strongly implied sex scene with deliberately disgusting overtones.

VIOLENCE Several scenes with fighting and a scene where a man's hand is destroyed by a machine.

PROFANITY Many vulgar words and a great deal of deliberately gross bathroom humor.

DRUGS/ALCOHOL Drinking in several scenes, and a brief scene of drug smoking.

The Nutty Professor [PG-13]

** Directed by Tom Shadyac. With Eddie Murphy, Jada Pinkett, James Coburn. Running time: 95 minutes. ***

PLOT An overweight scientist slims down with a potion he's cooked up, creating a new self who's brash, aggressive, and unpredictable.

MESSAGE It's better to be yourself than to follow the crowd.

SEX Two scenes, sexual innuendoes throughout.

VIOLENCE About three instances.

PROFANITY Plentiful.

DRUGS/ALCOHOL Nightclub scenes, and the professor's potion is a sort of drug.

Twister [PG-13]

** Directed by Jan de Bont. With Bill Paxton, Helen Hunt. Running time: 114 minutes. ***

PLOT A handsome scientist spends half his time studying tornadoes from a front-row seat, the other half wobbling between his new girlfriend and his about-to-be-divorced wife.

Message Courage is an important value for people who want to help the world, and it's all right to laugh at natural disasters like tornadoes from the safety of a movie theater.

SEX Implied but not graphic.

VIOLENCE Lots of weather-related violence.

PROFANITY Plentiful.


Courage Under Fire [R]

*** Directed by Edward Zwick. With Denzel Washington, Meg Ryan, Michael Moriarty, Lou Diamond Phillips. Running time: 120 minutes. ***

PLOT An officer uncovers a tangled story as he conducts an investigation into whether a medal should be posthumously bestowed on a female soldier killed in the Persian Gulf war.

MESSAGE Truth can be hard to determine, especially when factors like wartime violence and gender stereotypes are involved.

SEX One sexual reference.

VIOLENCE Explicit violence in combat scenes: air bombardments, tank warfare, nighttime attacks, and battlefield aftermath. Also, a suicide scene involving a car and train.

PROFANITY Plentiful.

DRUGS/ALCOHOL A main character is an alcoholic; a secondary character is a drug addict.

A Time to Kill [R]

* Directed by Joel Schumacher. With Matthew McConaughey, Samuel L. Jackson, Sandra Bullock, Kevin Spacey, Brenda Fricker, Ashley Judd, Oliver Platt, Donald Sutherland. Running time: 128 minutes. ***

PLOT A white attorney defends a black worker on trial in a Mississippi town for killing the men who abducted and raped his young daughter.

MESSAGE The evils of racism are powerful and prevalent in the South, and personal vengeance is justified when an awful crime may not be properly punished by the law.

SEX Horrifying rape scene of a 10-year-old is implied but not pictured directly. It is later described in a courtroom.

VIOLENCE Two shooting scenes; two beatings; several cross burnings, including a house burned to the ground; one man set on fire during a protest.

PROFANITY A few instances. Several epithets directed toward blacks.

DRUGS/ALCOHOL Two secondary characters are alcoholics. Drinking scenes are innumerable. Rape carried out by two beer guzzlers.

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