Captain January

Movie review by
Nell Minow, Common Sense Media
Captain January Movie Poster Image
Shirley Temple feel-good classic is one of her best.
  • G
  • 1936
  • 77 minutes

Parents say

age 7+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Educational Value

Brief explanation of the purpose of a lighthouse -- to aid seagoing vessels and help them find their way to shore.

Positive Messages

No material possessions can provide the joy of having "the right someone" to love and care for. Having a sunny disposition and being a good person are to be admired. Good people win and happy endings are possible.


Positive Role Models & Representations

People are generally open-hearted and generous; lots of townspeople take an interest in and help provide for the orphan girl who lives with the lighthouse keeper. The working-class villagers are uneducated, use poor grammar and are somewhat ignorant of the larger world. A school truant officer is mean-spirited, rigid, and without empathy. In a surprising shift from many films of the period, the two rich, successful characters are honorable, sensitive, and giving.

Violence & Scariness

There is one wrenching moment when a sheriff physically removes a little girl from the arms of her beloved guardian. There's a mild scuffle as Cap tries to prevent it. In cartoon fashion, on separate occasions, the villainous truant officer is kicked in the rear, has her toe purposefully stepped on, and falls.


Sexy Stuff

Lots of exaggerated insults tossed back and forth between two feisty elderly men who are good friends: "sea cow," "river rat," "son-of-a-sea-slug," "dumbbell," "lopsided old swab," "blubberhead," "albatross."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Two elderly gents drink "cider" from mugs to celebrate.


What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this black-and-white Shirley Temple musical includes a sequence in which little Star is forcibly taken from "Cap," the self-assigned guardian who has raised her since infancy. It's a sad moment, but is resolved soon afterward. In addition, there is an early brief mention of death in which Star asks Cap, "Does everyone have to die?" and "Will I die, too?" His answers are vague enough and gentle enough to be both satisfying and comforting to the child.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byupstateNYmama March 5, 2017

Fun old movie, but more emotionally intense & violent than the Common Sense review suggests

My family (kids age 5 & 9) enjoyed this movie for our monthly family movie night, but it was sadder and more violent than we had anticipated for our 5 y... Continue reading
Teen, 17 years old Written byoldpaths April 9, 2008


If you like Shirley Temple but want something without all the Broadway glamour, this is for you! A charming movie.

What's the story?

Star (Shirley Temple), an orphan, lives with Captain "Cap" January (Guy Kibbee), a retired sailor who runs a lighthouse. They adore each other, and she thrives having a large community of sailors as her extended family. Meddlesome Agatha Morgan (Sara Haden) tries to prove that Cap is not a suitable guardian for Star, and that she should be in school, but Star scores higher than her peers when tested. The lighthouse is automated and Cap loses his job, giving Morgan another chance to take Star away. So, Cap's friend tracks down Star's wealthy relatives, who come to get her. They do everything they can to make her happy, but finally realize that the girl needs Cap and her extended family. In the end, Star's relatives hire Cap and his friends to be the crew of their new boat.

Is it any good?

This is one of Shirley Temple's best movies, and it provides an opportunity to discuss some of the most sensitive issues facing some children. When Star is taken away from Cap, she asks, "Why are they taking me away from you? What have I done?" This provides the opportunity to talk to children about how many kids mistakenly blame themselves for problems created by the grown-ups around them. While the movie depicts the difficulty of finding work, especially after a job has been made obsolete, in the end, this is a "happily ever after" movie. Some children may not connect with the story's perfect ending in which a rather desperate situation is tied up into a neat package, just in the nick of time.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the scene in which Star believes that Cap needs her to take care of him, and how while it's fun to role play, it is really the grown-up's responsibility to take care of the child. Also: Why does Paul try to get Mary to "bend the rules" for Star's test, and why won't she do it? How can you tell that Cap and Nazro are friends, even though they insult each other and argue? How does Star notice that Cap is sad? Nazro does not give Cap two important pieces of information -- what are they, and why doesn't he tell Cap? Star and Cap both give reasons they are glad to leave the lighthouse -- do you believe them? Why do they do that? Nazro says that children "forget quick." Is that right?

Movie details

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