Fantastic Fungi

Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
Fantastic Fungi Movie Poster Image
Fabulous docu finds hope in "magic" mushrooms.
  • NR
  • 2019
  • 80 minutes

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A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

Offers just enough information/ideas to get viewers interested into looking further into mushrooms, without trying to make any demands or convert anyone. Addresses benefits of "magic" mushrooms while arguing that their reputation as a "party drug" is unwarranted. Provides hope for all kinds of world problems, including mushrooms helping to cure diseases and helping people feel more connected.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Mycologist Paul Stamets is an interesting man, dedicating his life to studying mushrooms and trying to find ways to help people (he even invented a natural way of keeping away termites!). He describes his own "magic mushroom" experience, and he can't quite overcome the stigma attached to them as an illicit drug, but his story also provides food for thought.

Violence

Mildly disturbing/upsetting images include a dead, decomposing mouse and other images of decay/death.

Sex

Brief sex-related joke ("sporgasm").

Language

Single use of "s--t."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

"Magic" mushrooms discussed at length. While the movie doesn't directly advocate their use, it does argue for all the positive effects that can be experienced. Characters talk about their own use of magic mushrooms, and test subjects are shown using them, taking little pills and laying back to start their "trip."

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Fantastic Fungi is a documentary about mushrooms, their purpose in nature, and their relationship to humans, both troubled and hopeful. With beautiful time-lapse cinematography, compelling interviews with mycologist Paul Stamets, and poetic narration by Brie Larson, it's one of the most entertaining and inspiring documentaries in some time. Because of its subject matter -- the stigmas and benefits of taking "magic" mushrooms -- it's best for teens and up. Expect to see a few mildly upsetting images of death and decay, including one of a mouse decomposing (its skull is shown). The word "s--t" is used once, but otherwise, language isn't an issue. There's a very brief sex-related joke ("sporgasm").

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What's the story?

In FANTASTIC FUNGI, various experts explain mushrooms' surprising importance to virtually everything on Earth. They help the balance of nature, not only by helping clear away dead matter, but also by helping in the creation of new things and by creating connective tissue between all living things. Mycologists (fungi scientists) marvel at the variety of mushrooms, including the ones that are good to eat and the ones that can be poisonous. Mainly, the movie suggests that "magic" mushrooms may have had something to do with the humans' evolution and that their inherent properties may hold the answer to many of today's problems, from cleaning oil spills to curing diseases and helping with anxiety and depression.

Is it any good?

One of the most positive and hopeful documentaries in years, this lean, beautiful, entertaining mushroom movie suggests that the answers to many of our problems could grow naturally and abundantly. Louie Schwartzberg's Fantastic Fungi is determined to be more than just a talking-head movie. It uses truly astonishing time-lapse cinematography to show mushrooms blooming. Some of them are beautiful -- growing a net-like covering below their dome caps -- and some are terrifying (one looks like it has spiky red claws). The film also benefits by having Brie Larson narrating as the voice of the mushrooms themselves.

It also finds a great subject in mycologist Paul Stamets, who tells lots of great stories while wandering around in the woods, including one about how mushrooms cured his stuttering. The movie is immediately and consistently interesting. But it eventually moves into profound, cosmic proportions by proposing that mushrooms are a connective force to everything in nature -- and that humans probably ought to be more of a part of that connection. The movie does talk in depth about "magic" mushrooms, arguing that they're wrongly perceived as a "party drug" and are really far more useful than their reputation would suggest. But Fantastic Fungi also doesn't suggest that all viewers must take them. Rather, it merely provides information and the results of a few positive studies, and lets viewers make up their own minds.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Fantastic Fungi approaches drug use. How does the movie present the use of "magic" mushrooms? Does it pressure viewers? Does it let viewers make up their own minds?

  • Why do magic mushrooms have a stigma attached? Do you think that's why their health benefits aren't more widely used or known?

  • How does Fantastic Fungi compare to other documentaries you've seen? Did it leave you hopeful? Angry? Shocked? Did it inspire you to learn more?

  • Does everything in the documentary seem factual? How might documentaries skew viewpoints to one side or another?

  • Is Stamets a role model?

Movie details

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For kids who love science

Themes & Topics

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