— For Hollywood, the recipe for success in kids movies this fall is straightforward. Animals and animation are the buzzwords, with the five big titles coming out between now and Thanksgiving all featuring one or the other.
An injured dolphin, a swashbuckling cat, a rhythm-less penguin, a hapless younger son of Santa Claus, and the Muppets are the stars that the studios help will captivate kids into cajoling their parents to take them to the multiplex. It’s a mix of the familiar and the new, but only one of them is in theatres before November. So parents, you’re on your own in October.
'Dolphin Tale' (Sept. 23)
If you haven’t seen this trailer before, it must be because you don’t own a television or ever go to the movies because this has been the most hyped dolphin since Dan Marino. The inspirational story of an injured dolphin getting healed ’ and in the process, helping to heal others — is the feel-good movie of the season. It’s rated PG, but given the subject matter and the ending (spoiler alert: the dolphin in question plays herself in the movie, so you can pretty much guess how it ends), is a safe bet to appeal to kids, and moms and dads should enjoy it as well.
'Puss in Boots' (Nov. 4)
This isn’t quite a "Shrek" sequel, but rather the backstory of one of the prominent characters. If you’ve ever wondered what the cat with the fancy hat and sword did before meeting up with the distinctive green ogre in “Shrek 2,” you’re in luck, because that’s what this movie does. It isn’t something for littler kids — Jack and Jill are violent outlaws who are trying to get the power to destroy the world, which is a heavy topic for the average preschooler, and there’s some cartoon swordfighting violence to worry about. But older kids, especially those who like the other films in the Shrek franchise, should enjoy this one.
'Happy Feet 2' (Nov. 18)
Everyone loves penguins who sing and dance. But what about a penguin who doesn’t want to move to the music? That’s the plot of the “Happy Feet” sequel, which features Mumble the penguin dealing with a son who hasn’t caught dance fever yet. The original was a huge hit, winning the Academy Award for best animated feature in 2006, and it’s hard to imagine this one not having similar success. The downside is that you’ll have to fend off questions from your kids about why they aren’t allowed to have a pet penguin of their own.
'Arthur Christmas' (Nov. 23)
First things first: This isn’t a movie version of the PBS series about the cartoon aardvark and his animal friends. Parents of preschoolers in particular should be aware of that, since this film may be too sophisticated for younger viewers. It is the animated story of a different Arthur, a son of Santa Claus who must deliver a missing present to a little girl before the sun rises Christmas morning. James McAvoy voices the title character, and if he sounds familiar it’s because you probably heard him in the title role in “Gnomeo and Juliet” earlier this year. You can really confuse your children by arranging to screen those two films back to back.
'The Muppets' (Nov. 23)
If you liked the Muppets as a kid, take your own children to see this, because it’s the last best hope of reviving the franchise. Jason Segal, Amy Adams and Chris Cooper are the human stars playing alongside the Muppets, with the central plot an attempt to save the Muppet Theater from being acquired by Cooper so he can dig for oil there. If you think the point about tearing down the theater is a representation of the threat faced by the Muppet franchise, you probably paid attention in high school English and are certainly correct. Unlike the classic Muppet films, this one is rated PG because of mild rude humor, but odds are good that the kids of today will still love Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy and Fozzie Bear as much as you did. And adults will love seeing what their favorite characters are up to now — who doesn’t want to see Fozzie Bear in a Muppets tribute band called the Moopets, or Miss Piggy as a plus-size fashion editor?