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This summer’s best movies for families

Dunkirk

Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment

Paul Asay - published on 08/19/17

Not every film here is for everyone, but they can all serve as great end-of-summer distractions.

Summer’s dog days are looking a bit long in the tooth: Well-used ice cream trucks are getting their tires rotated; baseball’s making way for football; lawnmowers — both machines and people — are saying “enough already.” And if the kids aren’t back in school yet, they know they soon will be.


GEORGE LUCAS

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But we can still squeeze a bit of joy out of summer yet — and best of all, we don’t need to frolic outside in all that annoying heat to do it. A cool, dark theater is beckoning to us, perhaps with an overpriced tub of popcorn at the ready.

But you and your family don’t want to see just any ol’ movie. It needs to be appropriate, and it needs to be good. So what to see? Well, we have some ideas. All the movies listed below should still be in theaters (though some might have moved to the dollar variety). And while none are perfect, some just may provide a satisfying, edifying late-summer distraction for you and yours. (Click on the hyperlinks for more information.)

Despicable Me 3

Despicable Me 3
Photo Courtesy of Universal Pictures

It’s not easy being good. Gru, the one-time supervillain turned doting family man, knows this as well as anyone. His minions have left him to find a bigger, badder boss. He and new wife Lucy can’t seem to nab the nefarious moonwalking evildoer Balthazar Bratt. In addition, Gru’s long-lost twin brother, Dru, has stepped back into his life … and he wants Gru to teach him everything he knows about being eeeviiil.

Universal’s Despicable Me pictures have become not only the most successful animated movies not made by Disney or Pixar, but some of the sweetest, too. This movie offers some truly touching moments between Gru and his three adopted daughters (especially his youngest, Agnes). Lucy’s attempts to bond with the girls reflect the discomfort of many a blended family — and this one offers a happy, heartening ending. Sure, the film has a bit of toilet humor, but this film is anything but despicable.

Dunkirk

Dunkirk
Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc., Ratpac-Dune Entertainment LLC and Ratpac Entertainment, LLC

The year is 1940 — the very beginning of World War II. Almost the entire British army, and a good chunk of her allies, are pinned down by the Nazis on the beaches around Dunkirk, France. It’s an unmitigated military disaster, and all the Allied leaders can do is salvage what little they can. They hope that they might rescue 30,000 soldiers — maybe 45,000 if they’re lucky.


DUNKIRK,CHRISTOPHER NOLAN

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History dubbed what followed as the Miracle of Dunkirk, and the subsequent heroics form the heart of this remarkable, riveting war movie. Obviously, this film won’t be for everyone in the family: Audiences will hear some harsh language, and war-related tension and violence is unremitting. But Dunkirk stays well within its PG-13 rating, and it offers some powerful messages on fighting, and sometimes sacrificing, for a greater good.

The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature

The Nut Job 2
Photo Courtesy of Open Road Films

This animated film bombed at the box office when it was released last week. Maybe that’s because the original Nut Job was a bit uninspiring and, frankly, a bit crass. Thankfully, it seems like this juvenile franchise — and its squirrely protagonist, Surly — have grown up a little.

Nutty by Nature is often fun, sometimes sweet and not so preoccupied with bathroom humor. And while this is no Pixar flick, it even offers a few nuts — er, nuggets of wisdom to chew on. “Easy doesn’t build character,” his girlfriend, Andie, tells him. “There are no shortcuts in life.” That’s a pretty good lesson for not just Surly, but the youngsters in the audience, too.

War for the Planet of the Apes

War of the Planet of the Apes
Photo Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

It’s just about midnight for the human race when War opens. A manmade virus has decimated humanity, even as it instills other primates with heightened intelligence. But the remnants of humankind struggle on, and one splinter group — headed by a heartless cad known as the Colonel (Woody Harrelson) — is determined to take back the planet by force. Not great news for head ape Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his loyal band of followers, who simply want to be left alone.

It’s a curious sensation to go into a movie and find yourself rooting against humanity, but that’s exactly what we do here. War features a powerful, poignant storyline, lots of religious undertones, and about the best CGI effects I’ve ever seen. Moreover, this is the rare summertime blockbuster that encourages us to engage our brains — and perhaps have some great discussions afterward with the older kids and teens.

Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman
Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Ratpac-Dune Entertainment LLC

Superheroes can be a problematic bunch. Batman stomps around and scowls. Iron Man drinks and parties. The Hulk … well, let’s not even talk about his anger management issues. As such, Wonder Woman feels like a throwback: She’s a hero through-and-through, one blessed not just with bullet-repelling bracelets and a nifty lasso of truth, but with pure motives and a heart of gold. (And you don’t have to squint too hard to see a reflection of our Savior in her, either.)

Some families may want to steer clear of Wonder Woman: Her backstory is filled with references to pagan deities (her main adversary here is Ares, the Greek god of war), throws in some (subtle) feminist statements, and there’s some sexually charged banter between the superhero and her American sidekick Steve Trevor (played by Chris Pine). But for those tired of antiheroes, who want to see a real, honest-to-goodness do-gooder for a change, Wonder Woman is just the ticket.

As the summer winds down, it’s important to make every precious minute of it count. Play at the beach or take a hike. Eat a picnic lunch on the front lawn or make some homemade popsicles. Whatever you do, though, do it as a family. And watching a movie or two as a family can be a great summertime diversion, too.

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