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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that 1776 is a 1972 musical about the Founding Fathers in the Continental Congress in Philadelphia debating whether to remain as colonists or to break from England. Those used to more ponderous and dramatic presentations of our Founding Fathers as sanctimonious orators prone to dramatic proclamations of the glories of democracy might be surprised by the humor and outright bawdiness in some of the scenes. For instance, Thomas Jefferson tells John Adams and Benjamin Franklin that he has writer's block and can't come up with anything for the Declaration of Independence because he "burns" for his wife, who he has not seen in six months. Adams expresses similar yearnings, and Franklin then makes a joke about how at his age it's best to stick to writing because "the pen is mightier than the sword." A letter to the Continental Congress from George Washington reports on the general drunkenness of militia in New Jersey, and how their demand for prostitutes is greater than the supply of prostitutes in New Jersey, and that many have contracted venereal disease. Another Founding Father is constantly talking about or drinking rum while the Congress is in session. There is mild profanity, such as "son of a bitch," and "hell." This musical brings the Founding Fathers back down to earth and humanizes them, and shows that they could be just as divided, just as prone to good and evil, just as irrational temper, as any of us, especially the politicians of this or any other age. Teamwork, courage, and integrity are emphasized.
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At least once a year, every American should watch this musical. The characters and the issues are vividly and frankly portrayed, and we see the founding fathers' faults as well as their virtues. If we didn't know how it all turned out, the suspense would be unbearable. Expect some bawdy references and mild cursing, but otherwise it's a great pick for a fun and educational movie night for older kids.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about what they learned about our nation's history and the extraordinary people who shaped it. What characteristics do they find admirable?
Did anything surprise you in how the Founding Fathers were portrayed in this musical? How is their portrayal different from common perceptions and beliefs?
What are some other examples of historical events conveyed as musicals?
- In theaters: November 17, 1972
- On DVD or streaming: July 2, 2002
- Cast: Howard Da Silva, Ken Howard, William Daniels
- Director: Peter H. Hunt
- Studio: Columbia Tristar
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: History, Music and Sing-Along
- Character strengths: Courage, Integrity, Teamwork
- Run time: 166 minutes
- MPAA rating: G
- MPAA explanation: language.
- Last updated: September 21, 2019
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