December 3, 2003

Whale Rider (Review)

When I put Whale Rider on my Netflix queue it was just because I had heard it was a good film. But by the time it arrived I had read the description and it sounded like it would be a good film to watch with my daughters.

Weird thing was, it is a PG-13 movie. My daughters are 6 and 8. More about this later.

This film is about a young Maori girl named Pai who has had a bit of a rough life thus far. Her twin brother was destined to be chief of her people because of their bloodline, but he and their mother died during a difficult childbirth. Her grandfather was devastated. Years later when she is 12 years old, chauvinism keeps her from participating in the traditions of her people. It stands between her and accomplishing what no one else in the community seems able to do -- save her grandfather from the funk of his rigid vision of the future.

Stubborn people have stubborn children, and grandchildren. If stubbornness alone were enough to get us what we wanted in life, "like an ass" would be a flattering simile. Pai calls upon her creativity, her discipline and her heart to overcome obstacles set against her. I could tell that my daughter was fascinated by what this girl was willing to do, and it is a fascinating and captivating family story.

We watched the film together, my 6 year-old and I. This was good, because she had a few questions. The first questions were about the mother dying in childbirth. Next was about a few instances of the slang word "dick" which she had never heard before. Finally, she had a hard time understanding why Pai couldn't be the chief of her tribe.

The easiest question to answer was th slang question, easily dispatched with "it's a somewhat rude word for 'penis.'" The other questions were a little tougher.

This PG-13 movie presumably got its rating from that one instance of 'language' and a fleeting glance of drug paraphernalia which is not instrumental to the story in any way. I'm not the first person to be baffled at how a film like this earns a PG-13 rating. The film has a lot to offer, and the fact that it gets branded with a PG-13 shows that there is something fundamentally wrong with the rating system. That's not to say that kids ought to see this film alone, but it should be intended for kids to see, with their families.

What a waste of time most children's movies are. Kids need to have their heads filled with great stories that spark their own imaginations and challenge their hearts and their creativity. Most of the dreck out there for kids, and even some of the more entertaining stuff, does not offer much.

Keisha Castle-Hughes stars as Pai in her debut role. She's believable in this moving performance, which is never once overplayed. The kudos she has recieved from the press is all well-deserved.

If you want something different for yourself, or for your kids, Whale Rider offers more.

Posted by James at December 3, 2003 10:31 AM
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