A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Bush Christmas is a 1947 movie that may be a hard sell for kids. The biggest concern for parents is the casual racism that runs through the film. The Aborigine are referred to as "Australian blacks"; a boy talking about the perceived eccentricities of their Aborigine friend says dismissively, "The blacks have their own ideas"; and in one scene, the Aborigine boy is laughed at when, after getting lost in the bush, the white kids put mud on their faces as camouflage, and the mud has no effect on camouflaging the Aborigine boy's dark skin. Aside from this, there are some moments of suspense as the children get lost while pursuing wicked horse thieves and a scene that might repulse the squeamish as the children eat snakes and grubs after running out of food.
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What's the story?
After getting out of school for the Christmas holiday, five children -- ranch kids Helen (Helen Grieve), John, and Snow Thompson, a bookish English boy named Michael who is staying with the Thompsons, and an Aborigine boy named Neza whose father works on the ranch -- living in a small Australian outback town venture off where they shouldn't and come across a pair of horse thieves who are covering over the white spots on a horse with paint. The children don't put two and two together until the next morning when two of the horses on the ranch have been stolen. When Mr. Thompson finds out and then learns that the children ventured where they shouldn't have, he threatens to cancel Christmas altogether, and it's up to the children to sneak away from the ranch, pursue the horse thieves -- even as they realize they're lost in the bush -- and outwit them until the authorities can manage to track them down.
Is it any good?
BUSH CHRISTMAS has not aged well, and it's not only because of the casual racism on display toward the Aborigines. Although the pace of the adventure was surely exciting for its time (1947), by today's standards the movie drags in quite a few places. Also, this is less of a "Christmas movie" and more of an adventure of sorts -- a walkabout, if you will -- that really only shows and talks about Christmas at the beginning and at the end.
Still, it's not totally unredeemable decades later. There are some engagingly suspenseful moments of adventure and peril and some moments of slapstick that call to mind Home Alone. Also, remarkable for its time, the girl of the group -- Helen -- is portrayed as a strong leader, as skilled with horseback riding and as brave as the boys once they realize they're lost in the bush while pursuing the horse thieves.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how this is a movie from 1947. In what ways does this movie seem dated? How does it reflect the times in which it was created?
How is Helen, the only girl in the movie, portrayed? How might this portrayal be unusual for a film from the '40s?
What are some of the good and not-so-good ways that Neza, the young Aborigine boy, is portrayed in the movie?
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