Happy Feet Two (2011) PASS
Hop (2011) PASS
The Muppets (2011) PICK
Senna (2011) PICK
We Bought a Zoo (2011) PICK
The latest home-video offerings include last year’s best family films, two of last year’s worst family films, and one in the middle. There’s also a worthwhile grown-up offering, a compelling documentary about a controversial, devoutly Catholic sports hero.
The family film to get is The Muppets, one of my top 10 films of 2011 and last year’s best family film (with Winnie the Pooh a close second). A spirited rebirth for beloved, iconic characters from filmmakers who grew up with them, The Muppets shrewdly taps into Muppet nostalgia, The Muppet Show and the Muppet movies. Jason Seigel and Amy Adams shine, and the humor and the soundtrack hit all the right notes.
On the “avoid at all cost” list, put Hop at the top. A cynical, unfunny, gutless movie that tries to do to Easter what Tim Allen’s Santa Clause movies did to Christmas, Hop disses Jesus by implying that the Easter Bunny tradition is “4,000 years old” and throws inappropriate gags into a family film.
Not as awful, but still pretty bad, Happy Feet Two is a movie in the school of family-film sequels that pile as much darkness, menace, heartache and anxiety as a PG rating will allow. Despite a few bright spots, the shapeless, static plot, relentless pop soundtrack (rapping penguins anyone?) and global warming apocalypticism add to the general unpleasantness.
Quite a bit better is We Bought a Zoo, a fact-based family film about a widowed father (Matt Damon) who moves his kids into a new house that happens to have a struggling zoo attached. Director Cameron Crowe makes the most of the Hollywood-ready premise, abetted by appealing performances from Damon and Scarlett Johannson. One caveat: some unnecessarily rude language, most gratuitously a crude term from a young girl.
Finally, sports fans should check out Senna, a well-made documentary about Brazilian racing superstar Ayrton Senna’s celebrated career, complete with reckless driving and outspoken Catholicism, tragically cut short by a fatal crash.
CONTENT ADVISORY: The Muppets: Very mild rude humor; brief comic violence. Fine family viewing. Senna: Racetrack crashes, including serious injury and fatality; some bad language, including a few f-bombs, in English and subtitles; a few scenes of women in skimpy clothing. Teens and up. We Bought a Zoo: Stressful family situations; a few suggestive references; limited profanity and bad language. Tweens and up.