A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Beyond Beyond is a Scandinavian animated movie, re-voiced for English-speaking audiences. Danish director Esben Toft Jacobsen (The Great Bear) works to combine very serious, mature themes with a fantastical story. The topics are a child's grief at the loss of a parent and the very dire consequences of attempting to upset the natural and fundamental balance of life. Though the characters are humorous and quirky and some are lovable, there's not much comedy overall. Young bunny Johan embarks upon a perilous journey in an effort to bring his mother back to life. He encounters strange, often scary creatures (a blustering old dog, a powerful bird-rabbit, a fearless, destructive serpent) and life-threatening events (a boat capsizes; an entire town shatters and collapses, endangering all). In addition, the story and messages are often subtle and perhaps confusing; with few on-the-nose explanations, young audiences may well be scratching their collective heads to understand this movie's depiction of the afterlife as Jacobsen has envisioned it. Still, for many it will be engaging simply as a magical adventure in which a young bunny learns to accept his mother's death.
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What's the story?
Young Johan Bunny is devastated by his mother's death at the outset of BEYOND BEYOND. Aware that she was taken by the Feather King (the filmmakers' stand-in for the Angel of Death), Johan's dad (Cary Elwes), fearful of further encounters with the Feather King, sets out on a boat to sail the seas and avoid the villain. But Johan has vowed to find his mom and bring her home. On his own for a brief time and listening to the pleas of a strange voice over the ship's radio, Johan takes off on the ship, disobeying his father's firm instructions. A formidable adventure follows, filled with bizarre creatures and escalating danger. The radio voice is a scruffy old dog named Bill (John Heder) whose mission is to avoid his own summons from the Feather King. With the belligerent, selfish Billy guiding him, Johan makes his way to the Kingdom, an afterlife for mostly bunny inhabitants. But the Kingdom is not ready for the young rabbit. Johan's efforts to make his way into the Kingdom to find his mother are not all in vain, but the consequences of his actions upset the balance of life and nearly lead to calamity for everyone.
Is it any good?
Ambitious, cryptic, and often dark, this inventive animated tale tackles big themes with a multilayered story that is both puzzling and provocative. Production values are terrific all around: Music, animation, sound, and so on are all first-rate. Filmmaker Johansen has created very engaging characters. In addition to Johan and his parents, Billy and Frog (voiced by Emily Deschanel) are especially artful. While Beyond Beyond succeeds in so many areas, the story is the film's weakest link. It loses its way somewhere in the middle, then intermittently lacks coherence and logic. Though kids are the film's target audience, subject matter, confusing events, and/or some life-and-death scariness may make it unsettling for some.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the number of movies made for kids that deal with the death of a parent. Why do you think this is such a popular concept? What dramatic advantages are there to such a story? Can the topic ever be harmful to sensitive kids?
Discuss both the similarities and differences between this Scandinavian movie and many American animated tales. Do you think this movie would have been made by American filmmakers? Why, or why not?
The animation in this film is highly original. What artistic techniques did the director and his team use to make it special?
Does this movie succeed at combining serious themes and kid-friendly animation? Why, or why not?
- On DVD or streaming: March 8, 2016
- Cast: Jon Heder, Cary Elwes, Emily Deschanel
- Director: Esben Toft Jacobsen
- Studio: Grindstone Entertainment
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Adventures, Misfits and Underdogs
- Run time: 78 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: some thematic elements and mild peril
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.