Flight of the Butterflies

Movie review by
Renee Schonfeld, Common Sense Media
Flight of the Butterflies Movie Poster Image
Gentle docu celebrates miracle of butterfly migration.
  • NR
  • 2012
  • 44 minutes

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

Educational Value

Details the decades-long quest to follow the multigenerational migratory pattern of the monarch butterfly. Full exploration of the development and life cycle of the insect from egg to flight. Introduces Fred and Norah Urquhart, scientists who are credited with solving the mystery of the butterflies.

Positive Messages

Details the life and migratory journey of the monarch butterfly as a means to appreciate the awe-inspiring character of the natural world. Promotes respect for the miracles of nature and for scientific discovery as a life's work. Shows how curiosity, perseverance, and teamwork play an essential part in scientific discovery.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Recounts real-life story of a husband-and-wife scientific team who spent decades tracking the monarch butterfly. They are portrayed as dedicated, respectful, determined, and smart.

Violence & Scariness
Sexy Stuff
Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Flight of the Butterflies is a 44-minute movie made for IMAX screens now available on DVD. Following the monarch butterfly in its extraordinary three-generational, one-year journey from north to south and back again, the filmmakers have captured the essence of one of nature's most profound miracles. At the same time, they tell the story of one husband-and-wife scientific team who spent their lives working to discover the mysteries of the flying insect's migration. There are some references to the small percentage of the genus that survives to full adulthood. However, unlike many nature documentaries, this one includes no scary predators or frightening interspecies conflict, nor does it spend time on the insects' deaths. In its IMAX format, kids must have been doubly delighted as they felt they were in the midst of the butterflies' flight. On home screens, while kids will still appreciate the magical beauty and challenges of the monarch's odyssey, it may not engage the younger ones as fully. A quietly fascinating documentary for all ages.

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What's the story?

In FLIGHT OF THE BUTTERFLIES, audiences are treated to the real-life history of Fred and Norah Urquhart, two Canadian scientists whose lifework was the discovery of the annual migratory route of the monarch butterfly. From their Toronto laboratory, aided by volunteer recruits whom they called "citizen scientists," the Urquharts took more than 40 years to solve the mystery of how the delicately beautiful flying insects spent their lives. As two of the earliest individuals to use "tagging" of a species, the Urquharts were able, little by little, to track the monarchs from springtime in Texas to summer in Toronto. But the mystery of their whereabouts between Toronto in the summer and their return to Texas in springtime was far more challenging. Where did those fragile wings take them? How did they survive? How many survived? A combination of great luck, relentless determination, and eager volunteers around the world who were inspired by the challenge made possible what was to be called "one of the greatest natural discoveries of our time."

Is it any good?

While one never expects to see actual "miracles" captured on film, Mike Slee and his team manage just such a feat in this visually stunning story of one of nature's most beautiful creatures. Gentle, with real respect for both the monarch butterflies and the scientists who devoted their lives to studying them, Slee spins a delightful tale and manages to sneak in enough suspense to keep his audience guessing at the outcome. And when it occurs, there's enough investment in the Urquharts' journey to give it real emotional heft. Of course, kids have to be able to sit still for 45 minutes of relatively quiet events to truly take in what is offered. Flight of the Butterflies is best for families to watch together and talk about afterward, maybe even with a trip to a local butterfly exhibit, which will mean infinitely more after you've seen this movie. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the ability of documentary films like Flight of the Butterflies to engage our imaginations and our interest in subjects about which we are not already familiar. What is it about the art of moviemaking that makes such films the perfect partners for what we learn in school and from books?

  • Did this movie motivate you to find out more about butterflies? About other creatures that migrate annually? What other documentaries have you seen that helped you understand the complexity and magical ways of the natural world?

  • What did you learn about the field of scientific investigation from this film? Did it surprise you that the Urquharts took so long to find the answers they were looking for? Were you amazed by the fact that to complete the one-year migration cycle it took three generations of butterflies?

  • Who were the "citizen scientists"? How did they make the Urquharts' discoveries possible?

  • How does Flight of the Butterflies promote curiosity, perseverance, and teamwork? Why are these important character strengths?

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