A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that though the first cartoon about John Henry is a more inclusive look at an African-American hero, the other three cartoons are much more dated -- and less educational -- retellings of American legends. The Johnny Appleseed cartoon features a song about the Lord and a Bible that accompanies Johnny wherever he goes.
What's the story?
James Earl Jones, venerable African-American actor, gives historical context for the four Disney cartoons in this movie. The first, about John Henry, tells a story of a freed slave who uses his strength for the good of his fellow workers. The second tale, which is about Johnny Appleseed, shows a faithful young man whose seeds help plant a nation's fruit trees. The third cartoon is about Paul Bunyan, a larger-than-life lumberjack who frolicked across our nation with an ox named Babe. The last cartoon is about John Luther Jones, also known as Casey Jones, who drove a train engine faster than anyone could reckon.
Is it any good?
The first cartoon about John Henry is beautifully rendered and lovingly told, and creates a touching tribute to a soulful man. Though the Johnny Appleseed tale tells of the struggles of a young man in overcoming his fears, it does not possess the soul or depth of the John Henry story. The last two cartoons about Paul Bunyan and Casey Jones are stories of man versus machine, and though they are fun to watch, they are not as interesting or gripping as the first story.
It's amazing to see how Disney has changed its tune to include women and people of color in its storylines. These changes reflect the way our world really is, which provides a more interesting story. These tales could inspire families to get to the library to find more American heroes. We all need inspiration, right?
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the difference between true history and folklore. James Earl Jones mentions in his narrative that most of these legends were passed down through the spoken word. What happens to a story when it is retold over many years?
John Henry's wife, Polly, is very active in her husband's decisions and in his life. What about the other females in the other cartoons? How have women's roles changed since pioneer times? How are they the same?
As fun as it is to watch cartoons about historical figures, it's also cool to read about them. Here are some ideas about how to get kids reading.
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