Alakazam the Great!
By Brian Costello,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Early Japanese animation teaches positive lessons on virtue.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
This film is intended to entertain, not educate.
In order to be a truly powerful and great ruler, one must exercise humility, mercy, and wisdom.
Positive Role Models
While he starts out as a spoiled and selfish King, Alakazam, through direct experience and through teaching, learns the virtuous behaviors of humility, mercy, and wisdom. Despite his deplorable behavior, Dee Dee always loves Alakazam, through thick and thin.
Violence & Scariness
Mild cartoon violence, tame by today's standards, but some nightmarish imagery, and a scene where a character pulls a knife on another character.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Alakazam the Great! is a 1961 Japanese animated movie that stars Frankie Avalon and Jonathan Winters, and is also one of the first Japanese animated features to make it Stateside, opening the doors for all the anime to come. Aside from some of the nightmarish imagery and violence (a character pulls a knife on another character) that might be difficult for younger kids, perhaps the biggest issue is whether or not kids (and perhaps some adults) will find the musical numbers to be a bit corny. Regardless, this film does promote and teach through example and dialogue what it really means for a leader to be "great," and what it actually means to be "virtuous," no matter who or what you are.
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Where to Watch
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What's the Story?
In the land of Medusaland, Alakazam (Frankie Avalon) is a spoiled and tyrannical monkey king who has learned magic while being trained under Merlin. Alakazam's power has clearly gone to his head, and when he goes so far as to try and steal the forbidden fruit from King Amo, the gods decide that it's time for Alakazam to learn lessons in humility, mercy, and wisdom. To that end, Alakazam is sent on a pilgrimage with a prince. Along the way, Alakazam must do battle with a cannibal, a demonic lobster, and an evil trickster named Quigley Brokenbottom, and through these adventures, he must learn what it means to be a "great" leader.
Is It Any Good?
While the musical numbers drag down the story at times and don't seem to really fit in, the cool (if dated) animation and central message make this film a worthwhile experience for the entire family. Positive lessons on the importance of humility, mercy, and virtue are preached throughout, but are never done so in a preachy or heavy-handed manner. Kids can see firsthand the results of Alakazam's bratty behavior for much of the movie before he learns these lessons, and should inspire discussion on why good behavior matters in the world.
The biggest element keeping this film from being five stars is that some of the translation into English from the original turns the movie into less of a spiritual quest and more of an unusual pilgrimage with antagonists with names like "Sir Quigley Brokenbottom." Still, the overlying message trumps the shortcomings.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about Japanese animation. As one of the earliest examples of animation from Japan to make it to countries like America, how does this film anticipate the anime of later years -- in terms of story, message, style, characters, humor, anything else?
How is the movie's message of virtuous behavior conveyed in the movie?
If this movie were to be remade today, how do you think it would be different, and who do you think would play the different characters?
- In theaters: July 14, 1961
- On DVD or streaming: October 4, 2005
- Cast: Frankie Avalon, Jonathan Winters, Sterling Holloway
- Director: Daisaku Shirakawa
- Studio: American International
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Adventures
- Run time: 84 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Last updated: March 3, 2022
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