A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Cecil is an unconventional movie about a boy who lisps, gets laughed at, and sets out to change his 4th grade persona. It's also about popularity, bullying, an embezzling crook who's in debt to the mob, bickering parents who should know better, raising money to save a school newspaper, and very significant friendships. Sound like a lot? It is. Viewers can expect some violence -- a bad guy is roughed up by an even worse guy mostly off camera, but the resulting bruises are nasty-looking. There's a bit of mild cursing ("crap," "deep doo-doo") and a whole lot of screen-time devoted to a traditional "laxative" brownie prank that causes a great deal of misery for the story's villain. With absurd adults behaving in outrageous ways and plenty of poop-and-fart gags, kids are going to laugh a lot even in a movie that's as all over the place as this one.
What's the story?
CECIL Stevens (Sark Asadourian) has a lot of problems. His insensitive, bickering parents have split up and he's moving to his grandmother's. He's got to start 4th grade in a new school. He lisps, which makes it very hard to say the name "Cecil Stevens." He knows the new kids he meets will laugh. They do! He's mortified! On the bright side, he meets a quirky girl named Abby (Christa Beth Campbell) who has his back almost immediately, and his Grandma Peggy (Mary Thoma) is very cool. It doesn't take much persuading from Abby to get Cecil to change his name. "Michael Jordan" is a good choice, Cecil decides, especially since he has a real flair for basketball. The two find a way to make it happen and Cecil "officially" becomes Michael Jordan. A dizzying array of complications erupt, however, when the school's very mean principal (Jay Dee Walters) cancels almost all the school's extracurricular activities -- including Abby’s special favorite, the school newspaper -- so he can steal the money and pay off a debt. Can Cecil and Abby make enough money to save the newspaper by opening a “name-changing” business? Will the evil Principal Bloom escape from the bad guys who want their money back? Will the young Michael Jordan even make the school basketball team?
Is it any good?
In lots of ways, Spenser Fritz's film is a cut above the usual direct-to-DVD live-action fare offered for family viewing, but it's in a world of its own in terms of silliness and chaotic plotting. It's fast-paced, with purposeful slapstick-overacting from the grownups, and the story has a confusing labyrinth of plot elements. Writer-director Fritz goes all-out to make a kids' movie that's inventive and engaging. You want some animation? Check. Bullies? Check. A mob beating? Check. Fritz has also elicited some wonderfully natural performances from the kids (i.e., Christa Beth Campbell as Abby is a delight). Just don't expect a conventional direct-to-DVD experience for kids. The message gets lost in the madness, and Cecil doesn't even attempt to explain the nonsensical events that lead to its conclusion. Kids will be too busy giggling to care.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why fart, poop, and pee jokes are so funny. Why do you think kids (and some adults) laugh at what we call "gross-out" humor? Is it the embarrassment factor? Are you laughing WITH or AT the person who is pooping and farting? Why?
How are adults portrayed in Cecil? Who is the one grownup that Ceil and Abby trust? What is it that makes that person so trustworthy?
What did Cecil Stevens learn about being popular? Think about what it means to be yourself. How hard is it to try and be someone you're not? Are you aware that even kids who seem the most self-assured and accepted don't always feel good about themselves?
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