A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
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.
- Parents say
- Kids say
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?
- In theaters: October 9, 2008
- On DVD or streaming: January 20, 2009
- Cast: Bill Murray, Harry Treadaway, Saoirse Ronan
- Director: Gil Kenan
- Studio: Walden Media
- Genre: Fantasy
- Topics: Adventures, Book Characters, Friendship, Great Girl Role Models
- Run time: 95 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: mild peril and some thematic elements.
- Last updated: September 21, 2019
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