These films represent what we consider to be the best of what got released in 2014, and not just artistically speaking, but morally and content-wise, too. Our selection isn’t a stamp of approval, of course, so link to our full reviews and read them carefully before deciding to see anything we’ve listed here.
In February we’ll pick our winners. But you can do it right now! To voice your thoughts and vote for your favorite nominee for the Reader’s Choice award in each category, post a comment on this blog or on our Facebook page.
BEST MOVIE FOR KIDS (NOMINEES)
Big Hero 6 (PG): Hiro Hamada is a pretty smart kid. He’s only 14 and already a high school graduate. But Hiro still hasn’t really been living up to his full potential. After his big brother Tadashi was killed in a fiery accident, the devastated Hiro has been wallowing in his grief. But it’s his brother’s invention—an inflatable, balloon-like, health care robot called Baymax—that eventually pulls the boy back. What’s more, Baymax indirectly helps prove that Tadashi’s death wasn’t so much an accident as the result of a nefarious plot. And that spurs the 14-year-old megabrain kid into action. He starts out by giving Baymax some crime-fighting upgrades. Then he gathers together some of Tadashi’s former science whiz-kid friends for heroic backup. Before you can say “bim-bam-kapow” a brand-new superhero team is born. So even though the movie’s trailers may have given you the impression that this is primarily a Disney-ish tale about an action-crazed kid and his balloon stand-in robot pal, there’s lots more to it than that.
The LEGO Movie (PG): This movie is not just the longest and most entertaining LEGO commercial you’ve ever seen. Blocky plastic guy Emmet is an average LEGO nobody. In fact, he’s probably the most average interconnecting doodad dude you’d ever meet. But then one day Emmet encounters an incredibly un-average girl named Wyldstyle who, for some reason, mistakes him for someone she calls “The Special.” Then, when she introduces Emmet to this wizard-like guy, he thinks Emmet is the prophesized Special, too. Now, Emmet realizes that all the stories they’re telling him can’t really be about him. But for the first time in his very square life there are people who think he might be more than simply mediocre. And if they want him to be special, then he’ll do whatever his very average brain can come up with to make that true.
Muppets Most Wanted (PG): The felt-covered Muppets are at loose ends until a shrewd businessman named Dominic Badguy approaches Kermit and suggests he take his friends out on a world tour. It’s perfect! The puppety pals can take their act on the road and deliver their Muppet Magic directly to John and Jane Q. Public all around the globe. Little do those fleecy (and fleeceable) friends realize, however, that Dominic is a notorious villain. And he just happens to be the sidekick of an even notoriouser frog villain named Constantine—a dastardly amphibian mastermind who looks exactly like Kermit. As their nefarious plot unfolds, Constantine replaces Kermit as our favorite green guy is snatched up and sent to a Siberian gulag. And then thefts start happening wherever the Muppets travel. Can Miss Piggy come to realize that the, uh, wool has been pulled over their eyes? Whether she does or not, it’s all fun enough that you won’t much care that this crime caper/prison break story is little more than a wireframe placeholder for knee-slapping guffaws paired with hilarious musical romps, well-timed setups, clever payoffs and enough celebrity cameos to fill a dozen remakes of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.
Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb (PG): Larry Daley has risen from being a frowned-upon night guard at the famous New York American Museum of Natural History to almost being in charge of the place. And it’s all thanks to the magical Tablet of Akmenrah—a long-ago unearthed artifact that can somehow bring statues, figurines and T.rex bones to life every night. Something, however, is majorly amiss. Again! That supernatural tablet is beginning to corrode for some reason, and those animated objects are losing their zip. So it’s off to the British Museum of Natural History, home of Akmenrah’s mummified parents, to find some answers. This third franchise installment is a Teddy-Roosevelt-meets-Sir-Lancelot-meets-Attila-the-Hun clash of “history” in a cartwheeling CGI-packed splash of silliness.
Dolphin Tale 2 (PG): One heartwarming story about dolphin survival deserves another, it seems, which is exactly what we get in this sequel. Back in 2011, moviegoers were introduced to Winter, a dolphin whose tail had to be amputated. Winter got a snazzy new prosthetic one and learned how to use it in that film. Dolphin Tale 2 picks up with Winter’s true-life story after the animal’s longtime tankmate dies. Dolphin depression sets in, and the crew at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium try to introduce Winter to a newly rescued marine mammal named Hope. But Hope’s not crazy about Winter’s artificial tail. It’s a dramatic and very wet conflict that propels Dolphin Tale 2 to its ultimately hope-filled conclusion—one that offers a few other important lessons about growing up along the way.
Movie summaries written by Plugged In reviewers Bob Hoose and Adam Holz.