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 action-packed fantasy based on the first book in Philip Pullman's best-selling trilogy will feel threatening to young children. Animals and kids are in constant peril, and young kids will be upset by the threatened separation between the animals (daemons) and their humans. There are also many tense, violent scenes (chases; fierce, growling animals; shooting), as well as a fairly graphic battle between two enormous polar bears (one knocks the other's jaw off). And there's a major clash between children and adult troops that includes guns, arrows, swords, clubs, chains, hooks, and explosions. The main character is a 12-year-old girl who goes up against evil forces to save her friends. Although some religious groups have urged a boycott of the film based on its allegedly anti-Christian content, there is no specific language or imagery related to Christianity.
What's the story?
The movie opens in an alternate world version of Oxford, where Lyra lives with her uncle, Lord Asriel (Daniel Craig). In Lyra's world, everyone has a "daemon," an animal embodiment of his or her personality and soul. While adult daemons are "settled," children's are in flux. Lyra is troubled as her friends disappear before they can mature, apparently kidnapped by "Gobblers." She is further threatened by the Magisterium, a forbidding institution that believes Lyra is the girl foretold in a prophecy about the Golden Compass, a complex device that can answer any question truthfully -- but can only be read instinctively by one person. And, indeed, when Lyra gets the Compass, she can read it, putting her at risk from the Council's primary agent, Marisa Coulter (Nicole Kidman). Lyra flees the grasp of the Magisterium and embarks on a journey to find her friends with the help of a vast array of charaters, including armored polar bear Iorek Byrnison (voiced by Ian McKellen).
Is it any good?
The Golden Compass is heavy on plot. And with so much to cover, the editing between scenes can be choppy and the digital effects uneven. The most wonderful and cunning "effect" in the film is Lyra (Dakota Blue Richards). A 12-year-old girl surrounded by digitized creatures, spires, and sailing ships, Richards' Lyra is a singular delight, at once curious and stubborn, thoughtful and impetuous. Though she faces a series of daunting challenges that take her far from home, she remains brave, moral-minded, and smart -- a little girl much like the little girls who might be watching her on screen.
Fans of the books will notice many changes, and the characterizations of the repressive Magisterial villains may trouble those who worry about the movie's ostensible atheistic messages (Pullman has said repeatedly that he's not preaching one way or another). But all technical and philosophical complications aside, the film is buoyed by Lyra, who is more enchanting than any magic. When one adult tells her that "Sometimes you must do what others think best," she has the ready and reasonable answer, repeating what she's been taught: "I thought we were best if we were free to do as we please."
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about whether this is really a movie for kids. It's been promoted as a family film; do you think that's accurate? What elements of the film might make it too intense for younger audiences? What values does it emphasize? Families can also discuss the concept of the daemons. What does a daemon represent? Why is the idea of being severed from their daemon so upsetting to the movie's characters? Also, if you've read the book the movie is based on, how do you think the two compare? Which do you like better and why?
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