A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this musical from Rodgers and Hammerstein isn't like their other crowd pleasers such as The Sound of Music and Oklahoma!. The themes are darker and the characters are flawed, especially Billy who beats his wife (not shown), steals, and dies in a knife fight. When he comes back as a ghost he may be after some form of redemption, but there are some mixed signals -- at one point he hits his daughter (who doesn't feel it).
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What's the story?
A deceased Billy Bigelow, hoping to return to Earth for a day to visit his family, tells the Starkeeper in heaven about his rocky marriage. In the flashback, Billy and his mill-worker wife, Julie, meet at the fair where he works as a carousel barker. Julie marries him in spite of his reputation as a scoundrel. Since the female carousel owner had hired Billy based on his bad-boy reputation, he loses his job, and the couple depends on Julie's cousin. When Julie's pregnancy inspires the lazy Billy to earn money -- or steal it -- he meets his untimely end. The rest of the film follows Billy as he observes (from the beyond) his widow and teenage daughter in hopes of redeeming himself.
Is it any good?
Some of the dancing, especially the ballet, is particularly good as far as movie musicals go. The song, "You'll Never Walk Alone" is memorable. Plus, the widescreen, Technicolor DVD features breathtaking scenery of the New England coast. An older audience, however, will pick up on the bleak and often misogynistic themes that make this story primarily about marital hardship and a husband's redemption.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about whether the film portrays Billy and Julie as fully developed characters, rather than as a stereotypical couple facing domestic violence. Also, what are some examples of those stereotypes in other films? How might the film be different if it were made today instead of 1956?
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