The Times Family Movie Guide should be used as a supplemental reference, along with the Motion Picture Association of America rating system, for selecting movies suitable for children. Films rated G, PG or PG-13 are featured in this weekly listing, along with occasional R-rated films that may have entertainment or educational value for older children with parental guidance.
Films are categorized as recommended for family viewing, recommended for family viewing with reservations and not recommended for family viewing, along with a description of content that led to that categorizing.
The Adventures of Pinocchio (G) _ No profanity, nudity or sex on display here, and the familiar fable allows only a few bouts of slapstick, non-graphic violence. Jonathan Taylor Thomas (Tom and Huck, TV's Home Improvement) is a major drawing card for kids, but most of his performance is spent off-screen as a voiceover until the final minutes. Some positive lessons here (honesty is the best policy, the nature of your heart counts more than physical appearances). Children should enjoy this live-action, literary-faithful version of a tale they've seen Disneyized before, while adult moviegoers admire the special effects that turns a block of wood into a fairly emotive performer.
Harriet the Spy (PG) _ The beloved children's novel gets the big-screen treatment, with feisty Michelle Trachtenberg (Nickelodeon's The Adventures of Pete and Pete) making an appealing debut. No profanity, but a few rude comments among kids that most parents would immediately shush. No violence, sex or nudity. Good lessons in tolerance and privacy, with the usual acceptance of an outsider who serves as a good model for children.
Kazaam (PG) _ A close call here, but young fans of basketball superstar Shaquille O'Neal probably will excited to see their hero even larger than life on the screen. One mild profanity from Shaq's mouth, and a couple of crudities played for laughs. No sex or nudity, but Shaq gets stares from comely women who aren't asking for autographs. Violence is a factor, with young Francis Capra threatened by gangsters (who are mainly insulting Middle East stereotypes). This isn't a good movie, but O'Neal is the closest thing to a flesh-and-blood teddy bear your kids will ever cuddle.
Recommended with reservations
The Hunchback of Notre Dame (G) _ Disney sneaked by with that G rating, but this animated version of Victor Hugo's classic novel definitely is not child's play. No nudity and only one close call of profanity, but Esmeralda the gypsy (voice by Demi Moore) is a sexy-looking 'toon, and the villain's lustful feelings for her are a key plot element. The bad guy's role as a conservative judge/religious leader makes those references bolder than anything Disney has done before. Violence is bloodless, but a constant threat of danger will rattle some youngsters. Mature themes (hypocrisy in the name of God, physical looks are deceiving, loneliness). Recommended for ages 10 and over.
Independence Day (PG-13) _ Nobody has time for nudity or sex with killer aliens hovering over the world's major cities. The situation scares characters into a few choice profanities, however. Violence is of the inflammatory, comic book nature, without any graphic deaths to report. Some sequences _ a 15-minute attack on America's landmarks _ are quite intense and likely will frighten small children (and maybe some adults). Minor lessons in global cooperation, some interpersonal distractions (divorce, father-son conflicts), but Independence Day will be the cool flick for kids to brag about seeing this summer.
The Nutty Professor (PG-13) _ Fans of the old Jerry Lewis comedy may be shocked by a few of the raunchy sexual innuendoes Eddie Murphy injects in his update. No nudity, or obvious sex, plenty of leering gags about it. Profanities throughout, including one f-word. There are rude comments parents may not want their children to repeat, especially in an insult duel between Murphy and stand-up comic Dave Chappelle. This film doesn't contain the scare factors of Lewis' Jekyll-and-Hyde transformation. Violence isn't an issue.
Phenomenon (PG) _ Mild profanities and one veiled reference to premarital sex are the only standard objections to be found here. The pseudo-religious nature of the story may be questioned by some believers, however. Not as many special effects as previews indicate (which may disappoint children), unless you count the magnetism of John Travolta as a reluctantly psychic messiah. Minor restless alert for kids, but adults should love it.
Twister (PG-13) _ Younger children have been seen cowering in their theater seats when the storms roll through Jan De Bont's tornado flick. No sex or nudity, but numerous profanities by the rowdy good ol' boys (and Helen Hunt) who chase tornadoes for research. Violence is harrowing; a father sucked out of a storm shelter, debris flying around and the monstrous sounds of Sony Dynamic Digital Sound. Mature themes (loss of a parent, divorce, midlife crises). Recommended for ages 13 and over.
The Cable Guy (PG-13) _ Children may clamor to see "Ace Ventura's" new movie, but Jim Carrey's antics aren't as crazy/cuddly as before. Profanity throughout, barely skirting the R level. No nudity, but several sniggering sexual references, including an encounter with a prostitute. Violence is just slapstick enough to be funny, and rough enough to make you cringe. Mature themes and a lower laugh quotient for Carrey make this one for adults only.
Kingpin (PG-13) _ Gross, disgusting humor throughout this comedy, set against the world of professional bowling. Sexual content includes an exotic dancer in drag, a spoof of The Graduate with a disgusting old woman, and one gag that uses bull sperm as a punchline. Profanities dot the dialogue at regular intervals (although no f-word usage). No nudity, but co-star Vanessa Angel's skimpy wardrobe makes her the sex object of the summer. Violence includes Woody Harrelson's character having his hand amputated by a ball-return machine. Definitely not for youngsters, or adults without a sick sense of fun.
Multiplicity (PG-13) _ The usual amount of profanity for this MPAA rating, and no violence or nudity to report. However, sexual situations dominate the final one-third of the movie, as each of Michael Keaton's clones find circumstances that allow trysts with his wife (Andie MacDowell). Mature themes (job pressures, absentee parenthood, Frankensteinian technology). Restless alert for any children who do happen into the theater for this one.
_ STEVE PERSALL