A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that there's abundant gunplay (rifle fire) as the Colonial militias face the British Redcoats, with some extras falling dead in both direct confrontation and sniper-style fire. The young hero burns his hand in molten silver, a vivid trauma in the book for generations of young readers, handled more discreetly here (the crippled limb isn't even shown in closeup). An ultra-religious character comes across as stern and domineering, but not cruel. The Esther Forbes novel is still required reading in many schools; kids today might be tempted to watch the movie instead of doing the reading.
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What's the story?
JOHNNY TREMAIN derives from a classic children's novel by Esther Forbes, showing the beginnings of the American Revolution from the POV of a teenage lad in Boston. Johnny (Hank Stalmaster) is an apprentice silversmith (Paul Revere is a competitor) circa 1775. Though related to snooty British aristocracy, Johnny has little interest in politics, just becoming a successful tradesman. When Johnny cripples his hand in a metal-pouring accident, however, he instead gets a subsistence job delivering copies of the Boston Observer newspaper -- which fronts for the rebel colonists such as Revere and Samuel Adams. Drawn into the intrigues of the revolution against the British Empire, Johnny and his friends participate in the Boston Tea Party, facilitate Paul Revere's legendary "midnight ride," and help defeat Redcoats in one of the opening skirmishes of the war for American independence.
Is it any good?
Done with Disney's usual high standards and even one musical number, this is a decent, occasionally stirring piece about the birth of USA. Some viewers, youngsters especially, might find the battle scenes a little small scale for Hollywood, but there's probably more accuracy in showing how the American Revolution really started out with guerilla-type skirmishes and brief clashes in the dirt roads around Lexington -- not Jeffersonian X-Wing fighter dives onto King George III's Death Star.
Some speechifying by John Hancock, Sam Adams, and Paul Revere is a little dry, but the drama comes to life with a great monologue given by one of the lesser-known Founding Fathers, a grouchy semi-invalid named John Otis (Jeff York) in which he declares that what's happening in Boston is a serious conflict about freedom, with long-reaching implications, not just playing soldier to banish the pesky Redcoats.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the role that firearms played in the revolt against England; certainly guns go a long away in helping the colonists rout the British.
Talk about the Boston Tea Party and its aftermath. What was the protest about?
Discuss the irony that a few years after the United States won independence from the British a "Whiskey Rebellion" along very similar lines to the Boston Tea Party brewed up among Americans -- directed against the US government and its tariffs on liquor.
- In theaters: June 19, 1957
- On DVD or streaming: August 22, 2005
- Cast: Hank Stalmaster, Jeff York, Luana Patten, Richard Beymer, Sebastian Cabot
- Director: Robert Stevenson
- Studio: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 90 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Last updated: September 21, 2019
For kids who love history
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