03/22/2012 05:43 pm ET Updated May 22, 2012

'Hunger Games' Review: Family Film Guide

"The Hunger Games"

Director: Gary Ross
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson
Rated: PG-13 for intense violent thematic material and disturbing images - all involving teens
Common Sense Media: 13+

Moviefone Says: There may be the outlying naysayer or purist who dislikes the direction of the film, but we think this is even more faithfully adapted than the "Harry Potter" movies. Lawrence, who so beautifully portrayed a similarly focused protective sister in "Winter's Bone," is the heart of the movie, just as Katniss is the center of the books. Katniss volunteers herself to take her sister's place in the Hunger Games, a sacrificial act tantamount to death -- because 24 tributes compete and only one emerges alive. There's a substance to Lawrence that makes her perfectly cast as Katniss and other teen protagonists look frivolous by comparison. This is a story of survival and self-discovery and the meaningless brutality of a totalitarian government (evoked by the pitch-perfect casting of Donald Sutherland as the dictatorial President of post-apocalyptic America: Panem). The love story is there, though it's not the focus (and that's a good thing!). But romantics at heart shouldn't worry, because there are plenty of heart-fluttering moments to keep you going until "Catching Fire." Whether you're a fan of the books or not, this is an excellently acted, grippingly told tale that will blow your mind.

Parent Concerns: There is definitely violence in this film. The central Hunger Games may not be as bloody and brutal as author Suzanne Collins describes in the novel, but there's a visceral reaction to seeing the kid-on-kid violence rather than conjuring it in your own imagination. The tributes kill each other in a host of ways, from spear, knife and arrow wounds to hand-to-hand battles that leave teens with their heads smashed in or necks snapped. The editing is quick and the shots never linger on anything overly graphic, but there is blood and twenty-two adolescents, aged 12-18, die in the annual blood sport pageant. Immature tweens, even if they've read the books, may not be ready to handle to the film just yet. A good rule of thumb: if they're not old enough to be reaped into the Hunger Games, they're probably not mature enough to see it.

Did You Know? Lenny Kravitz plays the role of Katniss' understanding stylist Cinna, but when director Gary Ross first reached out to him, the superstar singer had no idea about the popularity of the books. Ross was insistent, however, in part because Kravitz and Lawrence were already friendly (his daughter Zoe became close pals with Jennifer on the set of "X-Men: First Class").

Three More to Read
"The Hunger Games" is one of many fascinating young adult books headed to the big screen. Here are three more popular teen lit novels featuring kick-butt heroines to read before the filmed adaptations come out.

"Daughter of Smoke and Bone": Laini Taylor's exceptional romance is out of this world (literally). The action half takes place on Earth, following the blue-haired Karou, a 17-year-old art student whose guardian is a chimera demon that grants wishes in exchange for teeth (yeah, teeth). When Karou bumps into a gorgeous angel named Akiva on a mission, he nearly kills her but is inexplicably drawn to something about her. As their lives collide, the future of heaven and earth (and other regions) hangs in the balance.

"The Mortal Instruments": Cassandra Clare's paranormal series is oft compared to the "Twilight" phenomenon, but with even more supernatural creatures than vampires and werewolves. Clary, the story's plucky protagonist, is a New York City teen who is quickly drawn into a world of Shadowhunters (demon killers) when her mother is mysteriously kidnapped. Naturally, one of the Shadowhunters is a young cocky blond named Jace whose charms Clary can't resist.

"The Scorpio Races": The award-winning fantasy by Maggie Stiefvater takes on the Celtic myth of man-eating water horses. Kate "Puck" Connolly lives on an island where every fall the horses emerge from the water, and those brave enough to ride them race in titular annual contest that always proves lethal. The rider to beat is Sean Kendrick, a brooding quiet boy who has a way with the deadly horses, agrees to coach Puck to prepare for the Races, resulting in a sweet but intense romance.