City of Ember

Movie review by
Betsy Bozdech, Common Sense Media
City of Ember Movie Poster Image
Parents recommend
Fast-paced fantasy has lots of tense moments.
  • PG
  • 2008
  • 95 minutes

Parents say

age 8+
Based on 16 reviews

Kids say

age 8+
Based on 29 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

The young protagonists are resourceful, determined, curious, and independent -- which presents a stark contrast to the blithe denial or fearful acceptance of most of the grown-ups. Some adult characters are selfish and corrupt. Lina is a strong female character, but there's not too much diversity in Ember.

Violence & Scariness

Several tense scenes involving a ravenous giant mole, which pursues the main characters very aggressively and is quite creepy and scary. It's implied that one supporting character dies violently (not shown); another, the only guardian of two children, passes away peacefully. Some chase scenes and brief scuffles between characters. The main characters are frequently in danger. A ride down a powerful river has lots of perilous moments.

Sexy Stuff
Language

One use of "sexy."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this fantasy based on the popular middle-grade novel of the same name doesn't have much to worry about in the way of sexual content, language, drinking, or strong violence. But its constant tension and often-dark mood -- it's about a decaying underground city founded to make sure humanity survived the end of the world -- make it too intense for the youngest viewers. The teenage main characters face challenges ranging from corrupt officials to a ravenous giant mole; they navigate these problems with persistence and resourcefulness.

Wondering if City of Ember is OK for your kids?

Set preferences and get age-appropriate recommendations with Common Sense Media Plus. Join now

Continue reading Show less

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 11, 13, and 14-year-old Written byL L. July 8, 2019

Really Good.

The whole family loved this movie. Our daughter read the book a couple of years ago, loved it too.Great blend of interesting characters. Intense and dramatic ma... Continue reading
Adult Written byLorah519 June 14, 2019

Great for kids

My kids loved it. As an adult though I have way too many questions! Lots of plot holes. But it's a good movie overall!!
Teen, 17 years old Written byabbacus June 15, 2012

Really good!

I liked it. Good for older kids.
Teen, 13 years old Written byEMINEM27 June 1, 2011

What's the story?

It's been more than 200 years since the CITY OF EMBER was founded deep underground to protect a small segment of humanity from an impending doomsday on Earth's surface. During that time, the secret to leaving the city when the time was right got lost; now, the town's massive generator is failing, supplies are running low, and no one wants to think about what lies in the darkness beyond the city limits. No one, that is, except curious teens Lina Mayfleet (Saoirse Ronan) and Doon Harrow (Harry Treadaway), who are determined to find a way out of Ember before it's too late. To succeed, they must puzzle out an ancient document, navigate the city's crumbling pipeworks, and dodge everything from an enormous mole to the city's overconfident mayor (Bill Murray).

Is it any good?

Based on Jeanne DuPrau's best-selling novel, City of Ember has an original premise and a fast pace -- both of which are sure to entertain tween fantasy fans. The sets and costumes are great; in a nice departure from the tech-heavy dystopias so popular in other post-apocalyptic stories, Ember is a Dickensian landscape of grimy streets and scruffy urchins. Even with all of the lights hanging above, it's a dark, dirty place.

The teen actors are also good -- particularly Ronan, who was so memorable in Atonement -- even though the movie doesn't give them too much to do besides race from place to place and suddenly come up with "aha!" ideas when the situation calls for it. That may be City of Ember's biggest flaw: In the effort to keep young viewers' attention by moving the action along briskly, it sacrifices some storytelling logic. But chances are the kids who want to see it will remember it more for the made-to-be-turned-into-a-theme-park-ride sequence in which Lina and Doon navigate a roiling river than anything else, anyway.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why so many of the grown-ups in Ember were afraid or unwilling to accept what was happening to the city. Why were Lina and Doon different? Do you think that's a realistic reflection of the differences between adults and kids? Assuming the city's resources hadn't started failing, do you think Ember could have survived indefinitely? Is it possible to set up an ordered society? Families who've read the book can also discuss how the movie is similar and different. Which do you like better? Why?

Movie details

Themes & Topics

Browse titles with similar subject matter.

For kids who love Fantasies

Our editors recommend

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

See how we rate

Streaming options powered by JustWatch

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

Our ratings are based on child development best practices. We display the minimum age for which content is developmentally appropriate. The star rating reflects overall quality.

Learn how we rate