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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Away is a dialogue-free animated adventure that originally hails from Latvia. It's not a traditional animated movie; it's more like a work of art with themes of death and survival. It follows the only survivor of a plane crash, a teen boy who lands on an island and tries to find his way back to civilization. He's being pursued by a Grim Reaper-type monster that consumes living creatures in its path. The boy is in constant peril as he bravely tries to survive the elements alone, except for a bird he rescues along the way. Some of the images may spook kids -- including eerie figures falling through the air out of a burning plane, and a skeleton. Kids may also worry about both the boy and the bird as they continue to try to escape the monster. But there's no sex, language, substance use, or other iffy content, and the movie shows the importance of courage and compassion.
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What's the story?
Is it any good?
It's fair to say that Latvian animation director Gints Zilbalodis has created the most relaxing, beautiful film possible about a kid being chased by a monster. Everything about Away is gorgeously tranquil, starting with the opening shot of the boy hanging by his parachute on a tree branch as an ominous creature slowly lumbers toward him. Any thought that this creature could be a kindly Iron Giant or BFG is dispelled within minutes, when the monster swallows the boy whole. Still, as he gently floats through the creature's stomach cavity, internal organs rhythmically swishing and reverberating, it's calmly terrifying.
The animation isn't sophisticated, but it is simple and artful. The teen doesn't have a range of expressions, but when he stops and blankly stares for several seconds, it speaks volumes. And the lack of verbal communication -- the movie doesn't have any dialogue -- doesn't mean a lack of audio. The boy's heavy breathing as he runs, the whispers of the wind, and the peaceful sounds of nature against an orchestral score transcend language -- they make a statement about the serenity and perfection of nature when it's not interrupted by humans. Our hero is notably affected by what he experiences as he travels through uninhabited areas of the island, and the bird he befriends and carries in his backpack is also changed when it sees what's beyond the gates of its home. Some kids may drift off when watching this lovely, zenful film. As they do, they may also understand that the bubble of home is safe, but to grow, they must step out of that -- even if that means enduring some risk -- to see what they're capable of.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the saying "what doesn't kill us makes us stronger." Away is something of a literal translation of that idea, but discuss how difficulties can consume us or push us to grow. What are some real-life examples?
What does the monster represent? What do you believe really happened, versus what was a dream or symbolic? How can symbolism or dream sequences be effective to communicate a story?
How is compassion demonstrated to animals? How does the bird reciprocate the compassion to the boy? In how many ways does the bird "save" the boy?
How does courage help the boy elude the monster? Why is that an important character strength?
How do you feel about a film with no dialogue? Did it interfere with your understanding of the story? How is this movie different from a silent film?
- In theaters: November 29, 2019
- On DVD or streaming: November 29, 2019
- Director: Gints Zalbalodis
- Studio: Subliminal Films
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Adventures, Monsters, Ghosts, and Vampires
- Character strengths: Compassion, Courage
- Run time: 75 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Last updated: April 20, 2020
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