"The Polar Express" (G, 1 hour, 33 minutes)
An often spectacular-looking experiment with a new animation technology, "The Polar Express" is nevertheless a weird and airless fable. Based on the children's book by Chris Van Allsburg, it recounts the adventures of a little boy who regains his belief in Santa Claus during a magical train trip to the North Pole on Christmas Eve. "The Polar Express" was made with real actors (including Tom Hanks in several roles) whose movements and facial expressions were mapped in a computer program, then wedded to virtual costumes, sets and backgrounds. The result has a you-are-there three-dimensionality, but little emotional pull and a presumably unintentional creepiness.
"The Polar Express" has been geared to little kids, but for many reasons may scare those under 6 and quite a few older than that -- the characters' faces look neither human nor animated, but eerily mask-like; the ultra-heightened action sequences show the Polar Express careening out of control down mountains and across a frozen lake; a ghostly hobo who lives atop the train dematerializes at will. Especially on a big screen (and in 3D at IMAX theaters), this film could really spook little ones.
"After the Sunset" (PG-13, 1 hour, 33 minutes)
High-schoolers may eek some enjoyment out of this disappointing caper comedy with its haphazard plotting and tired jokes, but after noting the tropical scenery, thong bikinis and umbrella rum drinks, they're more likely to yawn. Inappropriate for middle-schoolers, "After the Sunset" has a raunchy edge to its alleged humor -- crude, unsubtle sexual innuendo, awful homophobic jokes (straight guys share a bed -- people walk in on them) that feel a decade out of date. The movie includes steamy near-sexual situations in states of partial undress, relatively bloodless gun and knife violence, occasional profanity and drinking. And there is one other element -- the unstated theme that crime pays handsomely.
Pierce Brosnan and Salma Hayek star as Max and Lola, diamond thieves who have eluded FBI agent Stan (Woody Harrelson) for seven years.
Intermediate string overflow ~
Beyond the ratings game
7 and older:
"The Incredibles" PG (Terrific, funny, innovative computer-animated feature about family of comic-book-style superheroes brought out of forced retirement to fight new villain, while dealing, often hilariously, with their personal issues. Harrowing action sequences have violence too close to live-action to be mere "cartoon" mayhem; attempted suicide, gunplay, octopus-like killer robot, superhero boy chased by lethal flying discs, captured dad given electric shock, missile attacks against superheroes' plane, scary parachute escape, brief kidnapping of superhero baby.)