City of Ember



Fast-paced fantasy has lots of tense moments.
Parents recommend
  • Review Date: October 2, 2008
  • Rated: PG
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Release Year: 2008
  • Running Time: 95 minutes

What parents need to know

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
Not applicable

One use of "sexy."

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking
Not applicable

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.

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.

Families can talk 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

Theatrical release date:October 9, 2008
DVD release date:January 20, 2009
Cast:Bill Murray, Harry Treadaway, Saoirse Ronan
Director:Gil Kenan
Studio:Walden Media
Topics:Adventures, Book characters, Friendship, Great girl role models
Run time:95 minutes
MPAA rating:PG
MPAA explanation:mild peril and some thematic elements.

This review of City of Ember was written by

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


Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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Teen, 13 years old Written bypianocutie95 February 10, 2009

cool movie

This movie was pretty awesome! It is full of suspenseful moments, such as the giant mole, which can ( and probably will be) potentially frightening for younger viewers. Also, every time they turn a corner, the music gets darker as though they're about to run into something, but they never do. except for the mole. Also, Lena's granny dies offscreen but she is shown in bed when Lena finds her after she has passed. Cool movie for 12+.
Parent of a 11 year old Written bymom6865 October 29, 2011

Too intense for 10 and under

I wouldn't agree that this movie is for 8 and up. Too intense and scary for 8 year olds. I think it's wrong to expose young kids to such intense content. My son read the book at 11 and watched the movie at 11. Seemed OK for this age. But my son doesn't watch much TV, doesn't see movies that are rated PG-13, isn't allowed to play violent video games, etc. Other kids who do all that at young ages might not find this movie particularly scary, but that still doesn't really make it right for them.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Teen, 14 years old Written byEspumaMarina August 8, 2010

Could have been better....

It could have been much better if they didn't add things or dragged things on. Otherwise it wasnt too bad. I loved the dramatic music, but the mole thing was not in the book, I see no reason to add that, and the mayor did not get eaten, he drowned, and I think the pop actually died of a disies, not of a drowning. Doon and Lina are a little too serious, but Doon's pop was pretty funny. I don't remember them being inside of the generater, or the moth. I'm just saying they could have at least kept to the book more, they kind of messed it up otherwise.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Great messages
Great role models


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