Category archives: Movie Reviews

The Unintentionally Powerful Pro-Life Message of One Child Nation

by Laura Grossberndt

August 30, 2019

One Child Nation co-director Nanfu Wang stands with her son in front of a Chinese propaganda mural.

Faced with a national population approaching one billion, the People’s Republic of China instituted a one-child-per-family policy in 1979. This policy was in effect until 2015, when the government expanded the birth limit to two children per family. While the policy may have “succeeded” at slowing the national birthrate, it also forcibly violated the bodies of millions of women and resulted in the death or disappearance of millions of pre or post-born children, most of them female.

One Child Nation, winner of the 2019 Sundance Film Festival’s Grand Jury Prize, is a heart-rending, eye-opening account of China’s one-child policy and the human rights violations that ensued. The documentary is narrated and co-directed by Nanfu Wang, a Chinese-American immigrant who was born in China while the policy was in effect. In the film, she conducts a series of interviews with victims of the one-child policy, former government officials and midwives entrusted with enforcing the policy, citizens who defied the policy, and members of her own family (some of whom supported the policy and others who opposed it). The result is a vivid portrayal of Chinese life and a compelling critique of government authoritarianism. Because of this, the documentary One Child Nation is the rightful recipient of much critical acclaim and deserves a wide viewership. However, a surprising moral inconsistency and a false comparison in the closing minutes of the film prevents this otherwise superb documentary from having its fullest impact.

A Heartbreaking Account of State-Enforced Brutality

Aspects of the film worth commending include Wang’s compelling first-hand experiences about the one-child policy. She explains that propaganda supporting the policy was woven into virtually every facet of life while she was growing up: from murals and advertisements to entertainment and music. She recalls feeling shame for having a sibling (some rural families were allowed to have two children). Her family felt immense relief when her younger brother was born—if he had been a girl, the family most likely would not have kept the baby.

Wang expresses frustration that her family and the Chinese people did little to stop the practices that she believes are morally reprehensible. In terms of presentation, little of the documentary’s runtime is dedicated to expressing her own feelings. Instead, she and her co-director Jialing Zhang allow the interviews to speak for themselves, without inserting commentary.

The people Wang interviews have varying attitudes towards the one-child policy. Some, like Wang’s mother, maintain that the Chinese government was right and that the policy was necessary to prevent wide-scale starvation. Others, like the village midwife, deeply regret the policy and their participation in its enforcement. This particular midwife performed an estimated 60,000 abortions in her career. Now she tries to atone for her past by offering medical care for infertile couples and delivering babies.

The first-person accounts of One Child Nation appeal to the viewer’s humanity again and again. The documentary successfully communicates an important moral point: What may have begun as a government’s sincere attempt to raise a nation’s standard of living has resulted in a human rights crisis. The blood of discarded children practically cries out from the ground. During one interview, Wang talks with an artist committed to documenting the horror of infant bodies left to rot under bridges and on top of trash heaps. The artist shows the camera one such body he has managed to preserve in a glass jar and marvels about how the baby resembles his young son.

An Incoherent Conclusion

As the documentary draws to a close, Nanfu Wang reflects on her journey, including the shocking brutality and human rights abuses perpetrated in the name of the one-child policy. However, as she discusses everything she’s learned about China, her family, and the one-child policy, she arrives at a surprising conclusion: the horrors of the one-child policy are parallel to abortion restrictions in the United States.

Despite over an hour carefully describing the horrors of forced abortions, sterilizations, and the horror associated with abandoning one’s child, Wang argues that both countries are guilty of policing a woman’s sovereignty over her body, albeit in different ways. In an interview with Vox, she expressed much the same sentiment:

I remember when I first came to the US and learned about the restriction on abortions in the US. I was very shocked. It wasn’t the free America that I had thought it would be. I was surprised by the government control on reproductive rights and the access to reproductive health care.

Making this film, I also had a lot of conversations with people about the topic, and I was surprised. Sometimes people couldn’t see how forced state abortions and the state limiting access to abortions are quite similar; they are both the government trying to control women’s bodies and trying to control women’s reproductive rights.

I hope that the film reminds people what would happen if their government takes away women’s choice, or any individual’s choice. And sadly I think it’s happening in China, it’s happening in the US, and it’s happening in a lot of countries throughout the world, where women do not have the freedom to make their own reproductive decisions.

These statements are stunning because of the inconsistency with the moral appeals for the humanity of the pre and post-born throughout the documentary. After seeing footage of babies preserved in jars and thrown onto trash heaps, is the viewer supposed to believe that the sole atrocity of the one-child policy is the violation of reproductive choice?

The policy’s crimes against adult women—such as forced abortions and sterilizations—are horrific, and Wang is right to expose and censure them. But as One Child Nation clearly depicts, adult women were not the policy’s only victims. The countless children killed in the womb or immediately after birth, as well as the children abandoned in marketplaces, on roadsides, or in dumps were also victims. Furthermore, the Chinese government’s one-child policy, paired with the culture’s preference for male children, practically guaranteed that most of the slaughtered or discarded children were girls. Women—both adult women and infant girls—were the victims most deeply harmed by the policy.

It is worth noting that sex-selective abortions are a type of misogyny that is often ignored by the pro- “reproductive rights” wing of feminism because it doesn’t neatly fit their narrative of abortion-on-demand. But as long as some cultures value male children over female, sex-selective abortions and other crimes against female children will continue to be a problem.

An Inadvertently Pro-Life Message

While One Child Nation adeptly exposes the tragedy of China’s one-child policy to a wide audience, a moral inconsistency and a false comparison in the closing minutes prevents this otherwise superb documentary from having its fullest impact. Both children and adults are clearly victims of China’s government-imposed birth restrictions. Furthermore, China’s birth restrictions and America’s abortion restrictions are far from parallel policies. The former kills children, while the latter seeks to prevent the killing of children. The Chinese policy violates women’s bodies with forced sterilization, while abortion restrictions seek to protect the bodies of all women: adult women from risky abortion procedures and pre and post-born girls from being aborted.

Harrowing and poignant, One Child Nation illuminates the problems with China’s one-child policy while making a strong pro-life case that perhaps its own directors do not even fully understand.

One Child Nation is rated R for some disturbing content/images and brief language (via subtitles).

Movie Review: “Alison’s Choice”

by Family Research Council

July 13, 2017

The film  “Alison’s Choice” dramatizes a two-hour waiting period of a pregnant high school student while she awaits her abortion appointment. As Alison sits in the waiting room, she encounters God as a janitor, two other patients at the abortion facility, three medical staff, and a counselor. Alison speaks with God as He pleads with her to save her child, while revealing different reasons behind the problems in the world. As God converses with Alison, He also speaks with each one of the women in the waiting room in an effort to save them and their children. Alison asks God various questions about why He allows certain problems in the world to continue and why He is impeding on what she thinks is the “freedom” of her and the other girls at the facility to “simply live their lives.” God shows Alison her baby growing inside her womb and lets her know of His loving plan for them both.

Alison’s boyfriend Ricky, the father of the baby, is absent while she waits for her abortion appointment, and the time makes Alison reflect on their relationship. Ricky told her “to just get rid of it,” upon discovering that she was pregnant after pressuring her to have sex with him in the first place. God reveals He was present at each moment preceding Alison’s abortion appointment, and He recounts asking Ricky to “be a man” and to take care of Alison and their unborn daughter.

The medical staff at the center suspects that Alison is unsure about her abortion procedure, so they attempt to coax her. Alison first meets a counselor on staff at the center who encourages her to have the abortion because it “makes sense.” She then meets a married woman who has two children and believes she and her family are not prepared for a third, so she chose to have an abortion rather than telling her husband or her two other children she is pregnant. Alison then journeys beyond the waiting room to speak with an abortionist on staff as well as a nurse. The abortionist tells Alison that there is a “growing lump of tissue” inside of her, and it will inconvenience her and not allow her to go on with life.  The nurse is a single woman who is “celebrating” her 5,000th “termination” in her time in the abortion industry. She is delighted to not have a man or child to “serve” but instead carries three pictures of her cats around her neck who are her companions. The film then travels through various thoughts in Alison’s mind as she grapples with the life and death decision about her preborn daughter.  

The movie ends with Alison’s decision revealed. The film invites the audience to contemplate the realities that women and men face with an unplanned pregnancy. The rational moral consequences that can stem from the ordeal of abortion are made evident in the film through relatable characters. Despite some stereotypical moments, “Alison’s Choice” has a very plausible storyline and leaves the audience with an accurate representation of both the abortion industry and the difficult and often frightening reality of making decisions surrounding an unplanned pregnancy.   

Lauren Hand is an intern at Family Research Council.

Voiceless: Christians Must Engage the Culture to Fight Abortion

by Daniel Hart

March 3, 2017

In the powerful new film Voiceless, a war veteran starts a new job in the inner city of Philadelphia as a community outreach leader for a church. He soon discovers that an abortion clinic is located directly across the street. As he wrestles with what to do about it, he has a tragic personal experience which convicts him to take action and start a pro-life ministry. When he asks for support from his pastor, the church community, and even his wife, he is met with resistance. Finally, he is faced with a choice between backing away, or fighting for what he believes is right and risking everything he has.

In a panel discussion about the film, Executive Producer Stuart Migdon boiled down the point of Voiceless to this: to motivate Christians to engage the culture in the fight to end abortion. He cited a sobering statistic that found that over 90 percent of evangelical churches do not have a pro-life presence. Another study found that 90 percent of Christians want to hear their church speak on how to confront abortion. This displays a clear disconnect between what believers know is a grave evil and what their churches are doing about it.

As Migdon pointed out, if more Christians were to “wrap their arms around these men and women who are in these situations where they have an unplanned pregnancy, and they were to help them emotionally, physically, spiritually, financially, if they were to give their all to these people, then we would see a change in this country that we have not seen, even before Roe v. Wade.” Migdon continued: “Eighty-four percent of women that have had abortions … say that they never felt they had a choice. The church is designed to be that voice to give them that choice.”

While Voiceless is a thoroughly pro-life film with a clear message, Pat Necerato, the Writer, Producer, and Director, noted that he wanted to make a “character-driven movie about a real person having these struggles and not make it about throwing pie in the pro-choice people’s face.” He also pointed out that he wanted the film to “inspire people to take a stand for what they believe is right.” Necerato believes that the message of Voiceless could really be applied to any cause that people feel passionate about: “If that [any cause] is what you truly believe, you can watch this film and say, ‘You know what? I need to do something about this. I need to get out there and put a stake in the ground.’”

Stuart Migdon’s wish for Voiceless is that it may inspire Christians to act on their pro-life beliefs: “Be passionate, know that we can make a difference … We can have a pro-life ministry in every church in America, and make a huge difference; so much so, I believe, that it won’t be about making abortion illegal, it will be about making abortion unthinkable.”

Resources For Churches

  • Care Net’s Making Life Disciples is a 6-part DVD curriculum that trains churches on ministering to folks in the church facing unplanned pregnancies (20% Off Promotion Code: FRC20). 
  • The Human Coalition’s Church Toolkit provides pastors and churches with resources to address the issue of abortion with grace and compassion, clear biblical understanding, and concrete steps for the congregation. 
  • Voiceless is coming out on DVD on March 7 and it will help any church and pro-life member jumpstart a pro-life ministry. It can be pre-ordered here.

American Sniper and the Restoration of Man

by Travis Weber

February 11, 2015

Why has American Sniper struck such a chord with the American public? No doubt in part this is due to the incredible storyline and cinematography, but other factors are certainly at play in such a blockbuster hit. While critics have scrutinized various aspects of Chris Kyle’s story, something within us is still attracted to a man with integrity (that term being defined as consistency between one’s beliefs and actions). As Kyle heads off to war in Iraq, backing-up his fellow countrymen as a sniper, his simple conviction about the importance of defending good against evil—and his willingness to act on that belief—is attractive to the viewer. His skill as a sniper, and record as the all-time crack marksmen in U.S. military history, almost become secondary.

As Owen Strachan notes at the Patheos blog, this movie has “struck a chord” because:

We are in an age that does not want to believe in manhood, at least the traditional kind. Men are not supposed to be strong today. They are not supposed to lead their families. They are not supposed to take ownership of provision for their household. They are not supposed to be fearless. Modern men have had their innate manhood bred out of them.

As a result, many men today don’t want to sacrifice for others. They want to be nice, and liked by everyone, and to win the approval of their peers.”

Against this backdrop, American Sniper is a rather shocking entrée. It presents a simple man who lives by a black-and-white moral code. He is traditional. This is not existential manhood; this is non-existential manhood. Kyle does what he thinks he should do, and does not second-guess himself. He believes that he should use his God-given strength and ability to defend the weak and defeat the wicked. He believes, in fact, that there are wicked people in the world. He is not afraid to say so. He is not afraid to act on this conviction.”

Yet, “Kyle was no wilting flower. He was not a perfect man. He knew this. He was rough around the edges, he sometimes shot off his mouth, and he had a tough time with rules. In other words, he was a classically aggressive man. Our culture wants to anesthetize such men, to stick a tranquilizer in them and dose them up on medication to tame their natural aggression.”

Strachan continues, “[t]his is not what the church advocates, however. The church gives men a vocabulary for their aggression, their innate manliness. It funnels their God-given testosterone in the direction of Christlike self-sacrifice for the good of others (Eph. 5; 1 Tim. 3). It does not seek to tame men, or ask them to become half-men (or half-women). It asks them to channel all their energy and aggression and skill into the greatest cause of all: serving the kingdom of the crucified and risen Christ.”

Moreover, as men lead in this way, it is attractive to women. Strachan notes the presence of a number of young women in the movie theater, presumably excited to see this man in action.

Women are attracted to a man on this journey in which he fights courageously for Christ.

For Christ “was fearless. He was brave. We don’t know how big his shoulders were, or how handsome he was, or how fast he could run. We do know that he laughed in the face of evil, and gave no quarter to his opponents, and did not apologize for claiming that he was the way, the truth, and the life. Even as death took him down, he struck a climactic blow against the kingdom of darkness. He crushed it. He ended the reign of Satan, and began the true reign of the Son of God. Jesus was not a pacifist. He was a conqueror, and he will return to judge the quick and the dead.”

At that point, this “true man, who redeemed us, will lead us into a world where heroes do not die, but live forever with their God.”

Until that time, Chris Kyle’s conviction can help serve as a reminder of what conviction truly means.

Whittaker Chambers documentary competes at Indiewire

by Family Research Council

January 6, 2012

This month in 1950, Alger Hiss, an American lawyer and government official, and a Soviet spy, was convicted of perjury and sentenced to five years in prison. He was tried and convicted thanks to the efforts of Whittaker Chambers. A former communist himself, Chambers turned from what he later called the vision of Man without God and brought Hiss true political affiliations and allegiance to light. Chambers was one of our nations greatest anti-communists, and, as the author of Witness, has left a lasting mark on both conservatism and U.S. history.

Journalist and author Mark Judge is now teaming up with director Paul Moon to make a documentary about Chambers compelling and historic life.

Its a film that needs to be made for the same reasons that the works of Dante, St. Augustine and William F. Buckley (a friend of Chambers) need to be preserved, Judge said. Americas public schools and academia are certainly not interested in remembering the man who revealed Soviet espionage in the United States government.

Judge and Moons project, The Story of Whittaker Chambers, is currently competing for recognition and support at Indiewire.com. Each day Indiewire picks a Project of the Day to feature, and every week readers vote for one project to consult with an independent film website like SnagFilms or IndieGoGo. These Project of the Week winners compete to be the Project of the Month, and the winner gets to consult with the Sundance Institute, which runs the esteemed Sundance Film Festival. Voting is today, and its free. To support The Story of Whittaker Chambers, visit http://apps.facebook.com/my-polls/pomzh4m to vote.

And heres a poignant and applicable quote from Chambers that should resonate today: Economics is not the central problem of this century. It is a relative problem which can be solved in relative ways. Faith is the central problem of this age.

Wal-Mart/P&Gs Famly Film Game of Your Life is a Geeky Good Time

by Family Research Council

December 1, 2011

Wal-Mart and P&G release their ninth Family Movie Night film on December 2 at 8 p.m. Eastern on NBC. Game of Your Life follows talented young computer programmer Zach Taylor (Titus Makin Jr.), who has just won a scholarship to attend a video game design program. But the program is exclusive, and half of the students will be eliminated in the first three months. To make it through the first semester, he and a team of fellow students Sara (Dana De La Garza), and the brilliant nerds Phillip (Nathan Kress) and Donald (Adam Cagley) must design a computer game centered on choices and resolution. But when Zach learns that his father is in financial trouble, he has his own choice to make: whether to accept a side consulting job that will take his time away from his project and could hurt his teammates chances of staying in the program.

Game of Your Life features strong acting from Makin and his team. The story is goofy but entertaining, and sure to appeal to the inner gamer in all of us. Parents who want a family-friendly movie for Friday night will also enjoy seeing Back to the Future star Lea Thompson as motherly teacher Abbie.

Reality Confronts Oliver Stone

by Rob Schwarzwalder

July 27, 2010

Oliver Stone has made commercially successful and patriotically challenged films for nearly 30 years. Starting with Platoon, he has made a career of highlighting Americas real or perceived failings and generally diminishing the greatness of our country.

His film “Platoon” portrays America’s war in Viet Nam as an exercise in murder and American soldiers as moral primitives. Stone merits personal credit for his heroism as an Army soldier in Viet Nam, for which he received a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart with an Oak Leaf Cluster. Yet his brave conduct cannot excuse the worst possible excesses of a relative handful of American servicemen as representative of those who served in Southeast Asia.

Wall Street” excoriates investment houses to the point that no parody of the film could ever so richly mischaracterize the nature of risk, initiative and profit more fully than does Stone (after making a boatload of money running-down the economic system that made his wealth possible, Stone has produced a “Wall Street” sequel that is due out soon). His sordid and uproariously conspiratorial “JFK” fosters the belief that President Kennedy was killed by factions of the U.S. government. Stones “Nixon” is a wife-slapping lush. For such efforts, Hollywood has bestowed Oscars upon him.

Stone’s is an upside down world, where nothing is at it appears. For Stone, hidden meanings, invariably dark, lurk behind every corner. Prosperity for some always means oppression of the many. Liberty is a word used by the powerful to hold-down the poor. And so on, ad nauseum. Whatever the roots of Stone’s twisted vision, its distortions have been popularized in one morally tainted film after another.

Today, Stone’s understanding of true evil has given even his Left-wing defenders pause. In an interview published over the past few days, he decries “Jewish domination of the media” and asserts that Hitler’s Holocaust is over-emphasized. He summarized his profound views of American international relations by saying, “Israel has (vile obscenity) United States foreign policy for years.” Even the liberal Huffington Post called this “Stone-Cold Jew Baiting.”

In Stone’s world, Hitler “is an easy scapegoat,” and Joseph Stalin, mass murderer extraordinaire, has to be “put in context.” Stone whose father was Jewish, interestingly - is also a great admirer of brutal dictators like Fidel Castro and fascist thugs like Hugo Chavez, about whom he has made a glowing documentary.

Stone subsequently has apologized for his anti-Semitic comments, but his odd fascination with vileness today caught up with him. Never one to let truth get in the way of his perturbed historical narrative, Stone was today confronted by a reality that finally wearied of him. It’s called decency, something with which the talented but twisted filmmaker is all too unfamiliar.

Let us pray that Mr. Stone will turn his formidable talent as a filmmaker to truth that is bracing but ennobling, beauty that might be hard-won but is still inspiring, and goodness that while not sugary still enriches - and that his evidently troubled inner life will be transformed by a grace God alone can give.

NYT Can’t Bear to Mention the Bible — Even When It’s the Point of the Movie!

by Cathy Ruse

January 18, 2010

On Friday, the New York Times published a review of the new Denzel Washington movie, The Book of Eli. But the review doesn’t mention even once what Eli is protecting: the last copy of the Bible on Earth. The closest the reviewer can bring herself to mentioning the point of the story is to speak of the “fog of religiosity that hangs over the movie.” Ha!

Not So Curious

by Family Research Council

December 29, 2008

F. Scott Fitzgerald is renowned for having written the most famous American novel, The Great Gatsby, which closes with one of literature’s best-known lines, “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” In The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, the boat becomes a man becomes a trope, the story of a human being who is born old and who lives his life in reverse, moving through old age, to maturity, to the prime of life, to adolescence, to childhood, and finally to infancy. Benjamin is literally borne back ceaselessly into what for everyone else would be the past. It’s an extraordinary concept, but does it make an extraordinary film?

For Fitzgerald, the futility of holding on to romance, to beauty, to life itself is implicit in every word and gesture. Moments of exquisite beauty fade instantly as they occur and their fatal aura only sharpens the impressions they leave upon the senses. Southern light lends itself to such uses and the decadent — that is, decaying - atmosphere of New Orleans in the 1920s and ‘30s is overripe for such a story (Fitzgerald’s original was published in 1921, and the film bears little relation to it other than the title). Cinematically, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button captures that evanescent beauty in almost every scene; it is a visually sensual movie that recreates its time in nearly every frame.

For all of that beauty, however, the film is an empty vessel, and Benjamin himself is the reason why. Were it not for the fantastic trajectory of his existence, it is altogether unclear why we should care about his life and not altogether clear that he cares about it either. His very being is the work of an artist’s imagination, but he himself seems to lack an imaginative core. He not only experiences life in reverse, he experiences it passively, whether it is piano lessons, his first sexual experience, his first job as a tugboat hand, the second world war, his first real love, fatherhood, and finally, as an infant, death itself.

The film’s recurring phrase, “You never know what is coming for you,” is apt in a manner the movie may not intend. Things happen to Benjamin, but he is not one to go out to meet them. He passes the lives of others in the night, heading the other way. There is occasional poignancy in this passageway, but it is seldom truly evocative. The performances by the leads, Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, contribute to this quality. Blanchett’s porcelain features and royal bearing reinforce a coolness that contrasts starkly with the vibrancy of the film’s black characters, who alone seem real. Benjamin’s own coolness at the death of his adoptive mother, Queenie, played with power by Taraji Henson, seems merely odd. He behaves like a visitor at her funeral, not like a son.

The narrative flashback form used in the film has been done elsewhere, and better, most notably in another tall tale filled with picaresque Southern elegance, Tim Burton’s Big Fish. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’s framing story, like that of Big Fish, features parent-child tension and death-bed revelations, but the stakes in Burton’s film seem far higher and relate integrally to the movie’s meaning. Peter Finch’s character in Big Fish makes his experiences larger-than-life and those experiences mystically grow to assume the size of his telling; Benjamin Button renders his larger-than-life experiences in a way that seems to diminish them, and he follows them into shrinking significance as the film flows on, like Heraclitus’s river.

Take Burton and its genuine romance, over Button and its curious ennui.

Review: The Tale of Despereaux

by Family Research Council

December 19, 2008

On Saturday this reviewer had the opportunity to be the only unaccompanied adult in a theater full of parents and tots to see the new Universal release The Tale of Despereaux. The movie is an adaptation of the book by Kate DiCamillo, which came highly recommended by my almost 15-year-old son, who had warm memories of it from his youth but who was, apparently, concerned about being seen in a theater filled with children small enough to have to peep at the screen over the back of the seats in front of them.  I had no such concern, which tells you something about me.  Having not read the book or seen any comments from Ms. DiCamillo before writing my own, I cannot do any comparisons of the experiences of reading and viewing this family fare.  First of all, the film is indeed family fare, having no scatological moments and being blissfully free of any references to bodily functions as substitutes for actual wit.

As regards wit, this animated film is strong on both a visual and verbal level, spinning its interest around the trope of a young mouse whose intention to be anything but mousy turns his fear-driven world upside down.  Young Despereaux Tilling, the swashbuckling rodent, is physically the most delicate creature in the movie, possessed of both absurdly outsized ears and a romantically outsized nature.  He is driven to take on a “quest” that, while executed within the confines of a single castle, has all the scope of Arthurian legend: a lost item of great value (prize soup, in this case), an abject King mourning the loss of his beloved queen, a beautiful princess (voiced by Emma Watson of Harry Potter fame) who waits sadly for the return of both sunlight and rain to her indifferent world, and plotters and villains by the score, including the malevolent and ravenous denizens of “Ratworld,” who despise (and relish, with relish) all things mouse-like.

The film is built on the steady virtues of its heroic characters (in addition to Despereaux, there is the morally conflicted rat, Roscuro, heir to a long line of fairy tale figures whose actions result in unintended harm to the established order and unjust banishment) and the destructive ambitions of a jealous servant girl, Miggity Sow, who, it can be charitably said, yearns for a princess-hood that lies beyond her natural endowment.  This superbly animated film includes some scenes of genuine menace (cat takes the hindmost) that younger children will remember in their dreams, genuine pathos (the servant girl is handed over as a baby to a mean life that wounds her heart and spurs her acts of cruelty), and genuine tenderness (a princess’s gentle kiss) that lingers in the mind.

The voices are supplied by a Hollywood and United Kingdom A-list of talent, and the music, while derivative of other orchestral work, is both professional and appropriate.  Sigourney Weaver provides a wry narration that contains much of the film’s humor, as do the sequences of Despereaux’s fretful parents, who worry that their tiny son’s lack of cravenness will undo the pact of timidity that has become their way of life (in this the movie has relevance to elements of our risk-avoidant culture that would ban such things as kickball in the schoolyard).  Finally, Despereaux is a reader, and he finds his inspiration in tales of courage and selflessness, written in glorious script with bold illustrations in the style of N.C Wyeth that echo in Despereaux’s mind’s eye.  A film that calls viewers back to the written word, and to what those words can do to evoke images, stir courage and instill virtue, is on the right path to a timeless message.

The Tale of Despereaux contains nothing offensive, is rated G, and has no specific religious content.  It opens Friday, December 19 nationwide.

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