A guilty-pleasure flick for all you moms
PG, 103 mins., 2006
Oh, to be young and have the troubles of a 13-year-old again! Not that life didn't have its complications back then. Witness Claire (Emma Roberts, from TV's Unfabulous) and her best friend Hailey (pop star Joanna ''JoJo'' Levesque), who's about to move from Florida to the land down under with her marine-biologist mom. The girls while away the last sweet moments of summer, trying to think of a way to keep Hailey in the country, when a tropical storm brings Aquamarine, a teen mermaid (Sara Paxton, from TV's Darcy's Wild Life), to their swimming pool. Aqua has problems of her own she's trying to escape an arranged marriage and has three days to prove to her dad that true love exists.
The girls agree to help her (mermaids are capable of granting wishes, after all), and Aqua sets her sights on lifeguard Raymond (Jake McDorman, a McDreamy Jr. if there ever was one). Here's where the real fun begins. Since everything that tween and young teen girls know about boys comes from magazines (remember when Seventeen was the Bible?), we see Aqua and Co. do cram sessions in the art of attracting the opposite sex, consulting several guides. There's the ''laugh and pass'' technique, the ''fluff and retreat,'' and the ''Oh, I didn't realize you lived on this block'' ride-by. The mermaid also demonstrates some remarkable fashion saavy when she restyles a long T-shirt into a fabulous sundress not bad for someone who's just found her legs and her, um, bottom.
Tween viewers will no doubt relish seeing Aqua show some spunk when dealing with a Mean Girl (do they always have to be blondes, though?), and watching her and her friends gain confidence and maturity. Does Aqua get the boy in the end? Moms, you'll just have to tune in for that one. Consider it your guilty pleasure of the summer. B+ Eileen Clarke
Recommended ages: 8 and up
The World's Fastest Indian
PG-13, 127 mins., 2005
Most feel-good family movies don't center around a retiree on a quest. Yet that's exactly what Burt Munro is: The New Zealander (played by Anthony Hopkins) journeys to the States, on a mission to set a world record with the classic Indian motorcyle he's been modifying for decades. Along the way, Munro who speaks in a thick, barely understandable accent charms his way out of scrapes, gains Diane Ladd's affection, and works his way into your heart. Plus, the movie's dramatic setups are quickly and pleasantly resolved before you have a chance to get too worked up.
Since there are two separate allusions to old people having sex, it's not appropriate for younger children, who would also be bored (and confused by the morning-after scenes). Parents and grandparents, though, will come away with some seriously warm, fuzzy feelings. B+ Abby West
Recommended ages: 10 and up
Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior
Disney Channel , June 16 at 8 p.m, TV-G
In this Buffy-lite adventure from the Disney Channel, popular high school student Wendy Wu (The Suite Life of Zack & Cody's Brenda Song) is campaigning to win her high school's homecoming queen title when a young monk shows up on her doorstep with bad news: It's the spoiled teen's fate to save mankind (on homecoming night, no less). And not only must the Chinese-American teen learn to channel her inner warrior, but she (and her assimilated family) must also learn to appreciate their Asian heritage, which, to this SoCal clan, primarily translates to eating a lot of moon cakes. While younger viewers may get a kick out of the Power Rangers-style martial arts moves, the ''birthright rules!'' morality is applied just a tad too thickly. C+ Michelle Kung
Recommended ages: 8 and up
Ellen's 11-Star Spectacular Superdeluxe Motel
By Larry Schwartz; illustrated by Kelly Denato
Plucky, buck-toothed, curly-haired Ellen, whose imagination is permanently in overdrive, lives at her parents' motel in Carson City, Nev. One day, ''I saw Princess Zara running through the palace courtyard! Someone had stolen the crown jewels of Sedelbania! Well, actually, it was Mrs. Sedelberg in Room 609 screaming that all her luggage had been stolen.'' So a world-famous detective well, actually, Ellen herself sets out to solve the crime. The text is whimsical and funny; the art, charming. A- Tina Jordan
Recommended ages: 3-6
Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City
By Kirsten Miller
I loved this book, and so did my 11-year-old daughter and we're rarely on the same page about anything. Ananka Fishbein, peering out the window of her Manhattan apartment one Saturday morning, notices a sinkhole. So she does what any smart, self-respecting, unsupervised 12-year-old would do: She goes to inspect it. What she finds is a ladder leading down to...to what? ''What I saw, deep beneath the streets of New York, was the kind of structure not unlike the Empire State Building, the Egyptian pyramids, or the Great Wall of China that leaves people speechless, their mouths hanging open.'' Shortly after Ananka discovers the Shadow City, she meets Kiki Strike, superspy, also age 12, who rides a Vespa, wears black, and aspires only to be dangerous and to control Shadow City and maybe all of Manhattan. Before long, she's got a bunch of crazy Girl Scouts, the city's rats, and Ananka on her side. A terrific and completely original read. A TJ
Recommended ages: 10 and up