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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 biographical documentary follows the life of English anthropologist Dr. Jane Goodall, who has dedicated herself to championing environmental and animal causes for more than 50 years. There's nothing really inappropriate in the film, but some of the topics -- and the length of the movie -- make it a beter fit for tweens and teens than young kids. Goodall does mention both of her husbands and the romances that led up to her marriages, as well as her husbands' jealousy (there's also footage of her kissing her first husband). Goodall also talks about some of the dangers facing the chimpanzees and the horrors that some communities in Tanzania deal with (bush meat, poaching, rape). Overall, this is an inspiring story of a pioneering women's tireless efforts to promote peace.
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What's the story?
This biographical documentary follows Dr. Jane Goodall's life -- from her earliest years as a budding primatologist to her decision to leave her chimpanzee sanctuary to dedicate herself to traveling around the world to promote peace. Although the film mostly deals with Goodall's milestones as a primatologist, her personal and professional lives are inextricable and filled with sadness (she was married briefly twice -- one marriage ended in divorce and the other with her husband's death). Goodall's life is applauded by colleagues and world figures (and Angelina Jolie), but her son Grub van Lawick explains some of the personal cost of her dedication.
Is it any good?
If JANE'S JOURNEY could be condensed to a tightly edited 70-minute tribute to the admittedly awe-inspiring Goodall, it would make an excellent documentary about a complicated woman. The visuals are beautiful -- especially the scenes in Tanzania's Gombe National Park, which is Goodall's "home." But at just over 100 minutes, the film's substance is too spread out -- spanning everything from Goodall's origins to her shift from Africa-based primatologist to citizen of the world -- to provide more than a passing insight on any period of the famous anthropologist's life. It's understandable, because what a life it's been for Goodall, whose devotion to the chimpanzees seems to have eclipsed every thing else -- even her own son, who's open about his struggles with Goodall throughout the years.
Jolie and other luminaries/Friends of Jane pop up to celebrate Goodall's transition into a world-traveling activist for change. A lot of celebrities hitch their wagons on various "causes," but Jolie has proven herself to be truly globally minded, so her anecdote about how Goodall changed her life is sincerely believable. Another touching moment comes when Goodall visits the Lakota reservation, which has astronomical youth suicide rates. Her impact on the lives of the Lakota community via her Roots and Shoots nonprofit leads a bereaved father to weep, unable to find the words to thank Goodall for caring when no one else did. Ultimately, this film would have benefited from a narrower focus (think Born to Be Wild, which takes half the time to capture two renowned women very similar to, albeit lesser known than, Goodall) or at least a shorter running time. Remarkable as Goodall is, the film tends toward the bland when it should have been as spirited as its subject.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how they can apply Goodall's messages about peace and conservation to their own lives.
How is Goodall's private life portrayed in relation to her professional life? Did she "balance" life and work well? How does her son feel about growing up with her as a mother?
How is this documentary different than other films about animal rights or environmental issues? Is focusing on person's life more compelling than concentrating on the animals themselves?