44 Pages

Movie review by
Brian Costello, Common Sense Media
44 Pages Movie Poster Image
Informative but dry docu on beloved children's magazine.
  • NR
  • 2018
  • 91 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Highlights Magazine has always upheld the ideal of "fun with a purpose," and this documentary shows how that ideal has evolved in the 70 years since the magazine first started. Diversity, tolerance, and inclusion. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

The editors and artists of Highlights Magazine are shown engaging in and discussing their work for the magazine. Documentary provides a glimpse into the day-to-day realities for those who work on the children's magazine. 

Violence

One of the writers tells an anecdote of how a kidnapped girl who was raped and gave birth to two children from her kidnapper was given access to Highlights Magazine, and how the two children also got to read it. Talk of kids writing letters about abuse and the Sandy Hook mass shooting. 

Sex

Off-color joke between editors concerning the word "fluffer."  

Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Pictures of one of the founders of Highlights smoking a pipe. Talk of kids writing letters about alcoholism.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that 44 Pages is a 2018 documentary about the history and making of Highlights Magazine. Much of the documentary is devoted to the day-to-day operation of the magazine. The inner workings might be on the dull side for younger kids but will be of interest for older kids and teens interested in pursuing a career in writing, editing, art, or design. The documentary shows how Highlights has tried to live up to its "Fun with a Purpose" motto, and how they've evolved over the 70 years of the publication to address how kids have changed over the decades. There's one off-color quip made between editors that will most likely go over most kids' heads. One of the writers tells an anecdote of how Highlights was one of the only magazines a kidnapped girl (who was raped and gave birth to two kids from the kidnapper) was allowed to read. Talk of kids writing letters about abuse, alcoholism, and the Sandy Hook shooting. 

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What's the story?

44 PAGES is a documentary on the beloved children's magazine Highlights on the occasion of its 70th anniversary. It traces the beginnings of the magazine and how it has evolved over time, while still remaining in the same office in Honesdale, Pennsylvania, under the same family ownership. The day-to-day inner workings of Highlights are revealed through interviews with the editors, writers, artists, and designers of the magazine, as well as footage of the different staff members working together to create the latest issue. The documentary also shows the ways the editors and designers are trying to address the societal and technological changes of our world, how that impacts the lives of children and how they process play and information, and where Highlights fits in in matters of diversity, tolerance, and inclusion, and as a print magazine in an increasingly digitized world. 

Is it any good?

While it's an informative and comprehensive look at Highlights Magazine on the occasion of its 70th anniversary, this documentary gets lost in the inner workings at the expense of the overall story. While the day-to-day working realities of editors and designers in the Highlights office might be interesting for superfans of the magazine and for those wishing to pursue a career in those fields, watching others read manuscripts or stare at computer screens isn't the most engaging fare. Too often, the behind-the-scenes of how the magazine gets made takes precedence over Highlights' evolution from beloved children's magazine and staple of doctor's offices everywhere to a magazine rooted in ideals and tradition that must constantly address the contemporary reality of putting out a print magazine for children who are surrounded by portable electronic devices and digital media. 

Despite being dry at times, the documentary manages to strike a nice balance between the nostalgia one might feel for Goofus and Gallant and how the Highlights of today is a magazine that's willing to address the concerns of today's children. That mean that beside evergreen topics like first crushes and arguments with close friends, Highlights also addresses kids' concerns about climate change, mass shootings in schools, and how "family" is defined now as opposed to when the magazine started in 1946. Even in the midst of so much change, the "Fun with a Purpose" ideal comes through in 44 Pages, from everyone working at Highlights to what comes out in each issue. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about creating a magazine. How did this documentary show the rewards and challenges of creating a magazine such as Highlights? How did 44 Pages show the ways in which Highlights was addressing its role as print media in an increasingly digital media reality? 

  • Highlights has never accepted advertising. Why do you think they have always refused to do this? 

  • How has Highlights changed, and how has it stayed the same in its 70 years as a magazine? 

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