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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Belle and Sebastian is a French live-action film based on the Cecile Aubry novel Belle et Sebastien, which previously was made into a French TV series in the '60s and a Japanese animated series in the '80s. The film is dubbed in English in the streaming version but can be watched in French with subtitles on the DVD release. This beautiful drama deals with some intense themes -- such as the Nazi occupation of France, drinking, hunting, and death -- but it avoids gratuitous violence and keeps the details appropriate for a younger audience. There's also some strong language ("bastard", "ass"), drinking, and a focus on guns, which, along with the intense themes and many suspenseful moments, make it best for tweens and up. There are strong positive messages about protecting the weak and fighting for what you believe in, as well as several positive role models who act compassionately and bravely in the face of grave danger.
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What's the story?
In BELLE AND SEBASTIAN, Sebastian (Felix Bossuet), is a young boy waiting for his missing mother to return from America. He lives with his adopted grandfather, Cesar (Tcheky Karyo), and Cesar's niece, Angelina (Margaux Chatelier), in Nazi-occupied France during WWII. Following reports that a beast has been eating the village's sheep, Sebastian stumbles across a giant, bedraggled mountain dog who appears to be the savage animal. But, to Sebastian's surprise, the dog, whom he names Belle, is really a loving, loyal companion who was mistreated by her previous owner. While Sebastian struggles to keep his new friend hidden, tensions run high as Nazi soldiers begin hunting for villagers who are helping Jewish refugees escape through the Alps to Switzerland. Soon Belle and Sebastian find themselves in the middle of the French Resistance as they fight to keep their friends, and themselves, safe.
Is it any good?
This is a beautiful, heartfelt drama that will be as appealing to adults as to kids. It's visually stunning, and the acting, especially by young Bossuet, is superb. Although the themes are intense and there are quite a few tense, suspenseful scenes, the story never delves too deeply into WWII details that would be inappropriate for children. As war stories go, it's a somewhat gentle introduction to heavy themes, which can open a dialogue for parents and tweens. But there are many heartrending scenes that may be too intense for younger or more sensitive kids.
Parents looking for a positive, historical film with wonderful role models (heroes, really) will love Belle and Sebastian. And parents can enjoy it without feeling like they're watching a children's film, though you may want to watch the original, subtitled version if you're watching alone or with older kids, as the English dubbing is sometimes a bit awkward.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about World War II. Do you know why Germany invaded France? Discuss the history of the war in an age-appropriate way with your children.
Talk about the French Resistance -- and Angelina and William's role in it. Why do you think they chose to fight against the Nazis? Was what they did right?
The heroes of this film helped others even though it put them in danger. When have you stood up for something or someone you believe in?
- On DVD or streaming: March 31, 2015
- Cast: Tcheky Karyo, Felix Bossuet
- Director: Nicolas Vanier
- Studio: Film Movement
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Cats, Dogs, and Mice, Friendship, Great Boy Role Models
- Character Strengths: Compassion, Courage
- Run time: 104 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Awards/Honors: Common Sense Seal
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