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December Movies: Reel Life with Jane

By on November 29, 2011

Steven Spielberg brings the classic Tintin to the big screen, Garry Marshall helms another romantic comedy, and Matt Damon buys a zoo. Here’s a sneak peek at what’s new in theaters and on DVD/Blu-ray in December.

By Jane Louise Boursaw


Not yet rated; like PG-13.
In theaters 12/09. Ok for kids 14+.
Reel Preview: 3.5

This movie wasn’t rated at press time, and I hope it scores a PG-13 rating. I’m guessing it will, since it’s helmed by the same folks who did Valentine’s Day, also rated PG-13. Like that movie, this one is directed by Garry Marshall and features an ensemble cast, including Ashton Kutcher, Robert De Niro, Sofia Vergara, Katherine Heigl, Carla Gugino, Sarah Jessica Parker, Josh Duhamel, Jessica Biel, Zac Efron, Abigail Breslin, Hilary Swank, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Lea Michele, to name a few. The story follows several couples and singles in New York City, intertwined over the course of New Year’s Eve. Sometimes these ensemble films try to tell too many stories and bog the whole thing down, but hopefully, that won’t be the case here.


Not yet rated; likely PG-13.
In theaters 12/16. Ok for kids 12+.
Reel Preview: 3.5

This sequel to 2009’s Sherlock Holmes finds the clever detective (Robert Downey, Jr.) and his sidekick Dr. John Watson (Jude Law) joining forces to outwit and bring down their fiercest adversary, Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris, a.k.a. Lane Pryce in AMC’s Mad Men). Guy Ritchie once again directs, with Rachel McAdams returning as Irene Adler. Also in the cast is Noomi Rapace, who wow’d with her starring role in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (the original Swedish film; not the American remake).


Not yet rated; likely PG-13.
In theaters 12/21. Ok for kids 14+.
Reel Preview: 4

I love all the Mission: Impossible films and still think Tom Cruise is one of the best action stars of his time. No reason to think this won’t measure up. The story finds the IMF implicated in the bombing of the Kremlin, so Agent Ethan Hunt (Cruise) and his new team go rogue to clear their organization’s name. Pixar’s Brad Bird directs (I guess The Incredibles was his warm-up for this film), and other players include producer J.J. Abrams and stars Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Paula Patton, Ving Rhames, Tom Wilkinson, Michael Nyqvist, and Josh Holloway. As a side note, Renner’s character was specifically created to replace Cruise’s Ethan Hunt, when Cruise decides to step away from the franchise. Oh, and it’s rumored that six minutes of The Dark Knight Rises will play prior to this movie.


Not yet rated; likely PG.
In theaters 12/21. Ok for kids 7+.
Reel Preview: 4

Based on the classic comic book series by Belgian artist Georges Remi, this Steven Spielberg-directed film combines four tales, including The Crab with the Golden Claws, previously adapted for the screen in 1947. Jamie Bell plays Tintin, a young reporter who sets off with Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis, a.k.a. Gollum in Lord of the Rings) on a treasure hunt for a sunken ship commanded by Haddock’s ancestor. The film is a combination of CGI and stop motion animation, thanks to producer Peter Jackson and his company, Weta Digital. Also in the cast: Daniel Craig, Cary Elwes, Simon Pegg, and Toby Jones.


Not yet rated; likely PG.
In theaters 12/23. Ok for kids 9+.
Reel Preview: 4

I can’t decide if the recent tragedy with the Ohio animal preserve will be good or bad karma for this movie. People might boycott it to send a message that it’s risky business keeping zoo animals (PETA has already called for the movie to carry a warning that special knowledge is INDEED necessary with exotic animals). On the other hand, this really does look like a cute movie. Based on the memoir by Benjamin Mee, the story follows a single dad (Matt Damon), who after the death of his wife, moves his family to the Southern California countryside and starts to rebuild an old zoo. Maggie Elizabeth Jones, who plays his daughter, is so adorable she makes me want to dissolve into a swirl of pixie dust and float off into the ether to spread peace and joy everywhere. Scarlett Johansson, Thomas Haden Church, and Elle Fanning co-star.


PG-13 for intense sequences of war violence.
In theaters 12/25. Ok for kids 13+.
Reel Preview: 4

Talk about a special bond between a young boy and his horse. Jeremy Irvine plays Albert, who despite being too young to enlist, heads to France to save his horse, Joey, after the horse is sold to the cavalry during World War One. The novel has already produced a Tony Award-winning play, and with Steven Spielberg directing and producing, this film will likely be a hit. And who doesn’t love horse movies?



PG-13 for thematic material.
On DVD/Blu-ray 12/06. Ok for kids 13+.

Reel Rating: 4.5; buy on Amazon.

Based on the best-selling book by Kathryn Stockett, this touching film stars Emma Stone as Skeeter, Viola Davis as Aibileen, and Octavia Spencer as Minny – three women in 1960s Mississippi who build an unlikely friendship around a secret writing project that breaks societal rules and puts them all at risk. It’s a book told from the perspective of “the help,” the African American women who work for and raise the kids of wealthy Southern families. The Help is not only a wonderful movie to watch and absorb, it’ll also spark discussions with kids, teach a history lesson, and remind us of a particularly inhumane time in our nation’s history.


PG for some mild rude humor and action.
On DVD/Blu-ray 12/06. Ok for kids 7+.

Reel Rating: 2.5; buy on Amazon.

Those little blue Smurfs from the 1980s TV series are back in a brand new story. When the evil wizard Gargamel (Hank Azaria) chases the tiny Smurfs out of their village, they tumble from their magical world smack into the middle of Central Park and must find their way back home. Yes, they’re adorable. Yes, Neil Patrick Harris has some funny lines. And yes, it’s cool hearing Jonathan Winters as the voice of Papa Smurf. But overall, the filmmakers rely way too heavily on crude humor, one-liners, and inappropriate references. However, if you buy the 3-disc combo blu-ray/DVD pack, you also get an all-new mini movie, The Smurfs: A Christmas Carol. It might be worth it.


PG for mild rude humor and some language. On DVD/Blu-ray 12/06. Ok for kids 6+.

Reel Rating: 4; buy on Amazon.

Based on the 1939 Newbery Award-winning book by Richard and Florence Atwater, this sweet movie stars Jim Carrey as a house painter who dreams of Arctic exploration and writes letters to real explorers. One of them sends him a penguin, and before he knows it, there’s a flock of 12 tiny penguins with big appetites that wreak havoc everywhere, including with his estranged family. The message is timeless: family is more important than any job and it’s ok to daydream and think outside the box. Carla Gugino, Madeline Carroll, and Angela Lansbury also star.


PG-13 for violence, terror, some sexuality and brief strong language. On DVD/Blu-ray 12/13. Ok for kids 14+.

Reel Rating: 4; buy on Amazon.

The apes look frighteningly real in this remake of 1972’s Conquest of the Planet of the Apes. That’s because the special effects and CGI apes were created by the genius minds at Weta Digital, the crew behind Avatar and Lord of the Rings. The story takes place in present day San Francisco, and man’s experiments with genetic engineering lead to super-smart apes who’d rather wage war with humans than kick back with a few bananas. Fine acting, stunning special effects, and a blend of family drama and sci-fi action make this a winner.


PG for sequences of martial arts action and mild violence. On DVD/Blu-ray 12/13. Ok for kids 6+.

Reel Rating: 5; buy on Amazon.

The plump panda Po (voiced by Jack Black) is now living his dream as The Dragon Warrior, protecting the Valley of Peace alongside his friends, The Furious Five — Tigress, Crane, Mantis, Viper and Monkey. But Po’s new life is threatened when a formidable villain returns, planning to use a secret weapon to conquer China. It would have been easy for director Jennifer Yuh to rest on the laurels of the first Kung Fu Panda movie. Thankfully, she took it a step further and seized the opportunity to offer positive messages about family, friendship and never giving up, even when all seems lost.


PG-13 for intense sequences of western and sci-fi action and violence, some partial nudity and a brief crude reference. On DVD/Blu-ray 12/13. Ok for kids 13+.

Reel Rating: 4; buy on Amazon.

Director Jon Favreau helms this sci-fi Western about an alien invasion in 1873. Daniel Craig plays a guy who wakes up in the Arizona Territory with no memory of his past and a mysterious shackle on his wrist. He stumbles into the town of Absolution, ruled with an iron fist by Colonel Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford), and everyone, including the elusive traveler Ella (Olivia Wilde), begins to realize this stranger might hold the key to their survival. A creative storyline and great special effects make this one of my favorite movies of 2011.


PG for some mild thematic elements. On DVD/Blu-ray 12/16. Ok for kids 7+.

Reel Rating: 4; buy on Amazon.

A compelling storyline, adorable kids, veteran actors, and, of course, the star of the show – Winter – makes Dolphin Tale a sweet movie for kids and adults of all ages. When young Sawyer Nelson (Nathan Gamble) finds the severely damaged dolphin caught in a crab trap, he helps a local marine hospital transport her to their rehab facility. Winter (who plays herself in the movie) eventually gets a prosthetic tale crafted by a specialist (Morgan Freeman) who works with returning war veterans. Harry Connick, Jr., Cozi Zuehlsdorff, Kris Kristofferson and Ashley Judd also star.


PG for thematic elements, brief language and some sensuality. On DVD/Blu-ray 12/20. Ok for kids 9+.

Reel Preview: 3.5

Buy on Amazon.

In case you didn’t get tickets to Glee’s North American tour, here’s your chance to see it in your own living room. Starring 14 cast members of the award-winning show and shot live during the summer tour, this movie includes performances of ‘Teenage Dream,’ ‘Get it Right,’ and the show’s anthem, ‘Don’t Stop Believin,’ among others. Fun for Gleeks and music fans.


One Reel – Even the Force can’t save it.

Two Reels – Coulda been a contender

Three Reels – Something to talk about.

Four Reels – You want the truth? Great flick!

Five Reels – Wow! The stuff dreams are made of.

Jane Boursaw is a family entertainment writer specializing in movies, TV and celebrities. Syndicate her family movie and TV reviews in your publication; visit her at Reel Life With Jane; follow her on Twitter; become a friend on Facebook; email

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