Plugged In Movie Awards: Best Movie for Kids

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For the last several weeks, Hollywood has been handing itself a bevy of awards, with the biggest honors—the Oscars—just around the corner. Alas, the movies that the entertainment industry chooses to honor may be strong in craft but weak in conviction, high in aesthetics but low in ethics.

But while we at Plugged In sometimes gives Hollywood a hard time for its penchant for problematic content, the entertainment industry almost always turns out its share of gems, too—sometimes duly praised, often overlooked. And as such, we like to give out our own little honors, too: The Plugged In Movie Awards.

Today, we begin the process of unveiling our nominees in four different categories: Today we’ll talk about the movies we consider to be the best for kids. That’ll be followed this week by Best Movie for Teens, Best for Adults and, on Friday, the Best Christian Movie.

But this isn’t just a top-down movie award, my friends. We’re asking for your input, too. We’re asking you to applaud those movies that you found the best, most worthy movies of the year. Pick your favorite among our nominees or, if you think we whiffed on one, choose your own. Let us know your own favorites down below, on our Facebook page or on Twitter, if you’re so inclined. You’ll have until Feb. 21 to vote. Winners will be announced March 2.

So with that preamble out of the way, let’s begin with the nominees for Best Movie for Kids.

Despicable Me 3: The formerly felonious supervillain Gru is doing pretty well. He and wife Lucy are full-fledged agents for the Anti-Villain League now, and they’ve been forging close loving bonds with their three adorable adopted daughters. But that honeyed happiness starts to dribble when Gru and Lucy are both fired for failing to capture criminal culprit Balthazar Bratt. And Gru’s faithful Minions get fed up with Gru’s new nice-guy ways and leave in hopes of finding a true baddie to follow. Then, out of the blue, Gru discovers his long-lost twin, Dru.  And while the bros get along famously, brother Dru only has one specific goal in mind: He wants Gru to teach him all he knows about being a super-duper bad guy. It’s an uncomfortable temptation back to the dark side. Between lost jobs and Minions and baddy Bratt and Dru, what’s a Gru to do? Despicable Me 3 suffers from a little bathroom humor here and there, but it has the good sense to rescue itself. The characters here are deeper than you might think, and the story richer.

Ferdinand: Ferdinand is a really big bull. If you saw him lounging peacefully in the shade of his favorite cork tree, on a hill overlooking the flower-strewn valley that makes up his home, you’d still want to give him as wide a berth as possible. But looks can be deceiving, and that’s particularly true with Ferdinand. Yes, Ferdinand has grown to be the size of a small mountain. But he’s a sweet mountain. And he’s only ever used his muscle and girth to help his newfound human family with their heavy lifting. But all that’s about to change. After a slightly oversized mishap, caused by an unfortunate bee sting, big ol’ Ferdinand caused a lot of damage and made a whole lot of townsfolk pretty scared. He was snatched up and sent off to a bullfighting training camp known as Casa del Toro. And he’s quickly chosen to fight the famous bullfighter El Primero. The sweet, lovable Ferdinand is certainly in a fix now. For as all the other bulls make eminently clear, when you’re at Casa del Toro, you’re either a fighter … or you’re meat! Based on a beloved children’s story, Ferdinand not only encourages viewers to stick true to their principles no matter the pressures, but also offers some great messages about friendship and keeping control of our emotions when things get tough. As I said in the review, Ferdinand is more than a one-trick Toro.

LEGO Batman: Batman’s always been something of a loner. Sure, Robin has occasionally joined the Caped Crusader in his crime-fighting exploits. But Bruce Wayne—and his alter ego, the Dark Knight—is fundamentally a solitary creature, and sometimes, to a fault. And so it is again in The LEGO Batman Movie. As this brick-built action comedy opens, Bats pretty much vanquishes villains at will. He could foil The Joker and his nefarious minions in his sleep. That effortless heroism has made Bruce Wayne arrogant. Aloof. Eventually, though, that combination of questionable characters qualities catches up with him. And when Bruce “accidentally” adopts adoring orphan Dick Grayson, he gradually, painfully, humorously discovers that sometimes beating back the bad guys requires trusting others to help you. The LEGO Batman movie’s got a few minor content hiccups, mostly bathroom humor and one gratuitous double entendre playing off of Dick Grayson’s name. That said, the film still delivers some surprisingly tender reflections on the importance of family and why going it alone is almost never as heroic as it might appear.

My Little Pony: The Movie: Things have been so galloping good in the land of Equestria that all the many varieties of magical ponies in the land have decided to gather together and throw one great big whinny-worthy friendship festival. But then something terrible happens: a unicorn called Tempest Shadow storms in with a cadre of fearsome beasties in tow. This broken-horned baddie wants to steal away the powers of the four potent pony princesses. She’s set on grabbing them all and funneling their abilities into a staff that the dreaded Storm King can use for his dark, cloudy pursuits. Only one princess, Twilight, manages to escape. She must come up with a way to rescue the others even though she feels like she’s the least able of the group. Only with the help of her best friends—Applejack, Rainbow Dash, Pinkie Pie, Fluttershy, Rarity, and Spike—can she hope to somehow save the day. There’s a reason why the My Little Pony franchise, most notably in its My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic television series, has developed such a strong (and sometimes strange) following. These hoofed heroines exhibit praise-worthy traits like bravery, devotion and self-sacrifice, and they’re always stronger together than they are alone.

Wonder:  Auggie Pullman loves his space helmet. Not only does it help him pretend to be an astronaut—which any 11-year-old who loves science, video games and Star Wars will tell you is awesome—but it also totally covers his face. And on this his first official day of attending public school, that’s a particularly awesome thing, too. You see, Auggie was born with a congenital disorder that caused severe facial disfigurement, among other health problems. So when he walks into a room, well, he tends to draw a lot of unwanted attention. Auggie’s mom calls him a “wonder.” And he may in fact be one, in a clinical sort of way: It’s taken 27 different surgeries just to help him function like any other kid his age. But Auggie would prefer it if he could simply be labeled as … normal. So, yeah, space helmets are cool. And as Auggie walks with his family toward the Beecher Preparatory School’s front courtyard, he wishes he could keep it on all day. But he can’t. It’s time for Auggie to stop, take off his helmet, walk into the school on his own and see what “normal” really looks like. Wonder can be hard to watch sometimes. Some kids are all too willing to accept Auggie at face value, as it were. But it eventually works its way into a loving, inspirational and real work of art. And that’s something we can all appreciate.

(All movie capsules written by Adam Holz, Bob Hoose, Kristin Smith and yours truly).