A Ring of Endless Light

Movie review by
Tracey Petherick, Common Sense Media
A Ring of Endless Light Movie Poster Image
Environmental teen drama has positive themes and dolphins.
  • NR
  • 2002
  • 88 minutes

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We think this movie stands out for:

A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Big focus on environmental awareness and marine conservation with detail about dolphins and the dangers of drift net fishing. Conversations about poetry and characters reading poems aloud. Some mildly philosophical discussions about life and death.

Positive Messages

Being and believing in yourself, as well as teamwork, are the main takeaways. Also the importance of having respect for nature. Academically bright characters are celebrated, as is the joy of learning. The value of a strong family bond is explored, particularly that of a grandparent and grandchild.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Vicky is spirited, intelligent, and creative but her lack of ego makes her relatable. She and her siblings are clearly high-achievers but are depicted as bright and driven as opposed to nerdy. Adam is passionate and nurturing, showing kindness and respect to animals and humans alike. Grandfather is charismatic, loving, supportive, and understanding -- Vicky trusts and confides in him.

Violence & Scariness

One beach scene sees a young character pulled under the waves as others try to rescue them. A long dramatic scene in which a dolphin is caught in a drift net. The tension increases further when a character is dragged underwater and nearly drowns. A character passes away after a terminal illness. Brief mention of an earlier death of a parent.

Sexy Stuff

Three brief -- and chaste -- kissing scenes between teens, which results in an innocent love triangle.

Language
Consumerism

One character drives a Porsche and has a jet ski, yacht, and speed boat. Brief product placement when characters are wearing branded cycle helmets. 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that A Ring of Endless Light is a sweet Disney TV movie -- based on Madeleine L'Engle's book -- with some emotional moments, but plenty of positive vibes, and stars Mischa Barton. Characters show trust and respect, while messages include believing in yourself and cherishing your relationships. There is an emphasis on environmental awareness and the value of being passionate and intelligent. Some dramatic scenes involve trapped dolphins and characters in danger of drowning. Spoiler alert: Following a terminal illness, Grandfather (James Whitmore) passes away, which makes for some philosophical conversations and, of course, sadness. One character's mention of his mother's death the previous year is glossed over rather flippantly. But overall this thought-provoking story has the feel-good factor with strong family bonds, wholesome teen romance, and irresistible dolphins. 

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What's the story?

A RING OF ENDLESS LIGHT tells the story of 15-year-old Vicky (Mischa Barton) who is spending the summer vacation with her grandfather (James Whitmore) on Seven Bay Island off the New England coast. She is reunited with her boyfriend from the previous summer, charming rich kid Zachary (Jared Padalecki) but then meets Adam (Ryan Merriman) -- a local teen who is passionate about dolphins and works at the island's marine research center. While helping out, Vicky realizes she is able to communicate with the dolphins, and discovers that they are being put in danger by drift nets used by Zachary's father's fishing business. As the three of them set out to expose the illegal fishing and save the dolphins, a love triangle develops. Meanwhile, Vicky's life is turned upside-down when she learns that her beloved grandfather is dying.

Is it any good?

Loosely based on the much-loved novel by Madeleine L'Engle, this made-for-TV Disney movie from 2002 was not well received by fans of the book -- but don't let that put you off. A Ring of Endless Light stands up just fine as a warm-hearted kid-friendly drama that -- in a nod to the original story -- addresses notions of life and death. Hardened cynics might struggle with the "communicating with dolphins" plot line. But what could have been corny or fantastical is treated as a scientific possibility, and somehow feels just about plausible.

The idyllic summertime scenery and cast of passionate, intelligent teenage characters makes for a satisfying, enjoyable set-up -- somewhat reminiscent of 1990s/2000s TV hit Dawson's Creek. Add to the mix a gorgeous family of dolphins in peril and a wise old grandfather (tenderly played by Whitmore) and the result is good wholesome entertainment for the whole family.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the bond between Vicky and her grandfather in A Ring of Endless Light. Is their relationship special because of, or in spite of, the age gap? How do they each benefit from the other's love and support? What can we learn from people from different age groups? 

  • In what ways are the three teenagers good role models? Consider their flaws as well as their strengths.

  • Talk to your kids about movies that tackle environmental issues. Why is this an effective way of spreading awareness? Would you like to see more movies that address environmental issues

  • How did the movie compare to the book? In what way did they differ? Which did you prefer and why?

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