A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Kazaam is a fantasy comedy designed to be a family movie that tackles issues such as divorce and friendships, but is dated, mean, and inappropriate. Unlike most movies of its type, it fails to feature any particularly sympathetic characters. Max (Francis Capra) the 12-year-old protagonist is rude and un-cooperative with his mother. He is also mean and harsh toward Kazaam -- played by basketball star Shaquille O’Neal -- a genie who must grant Max three "material" wishes, and who himself displays shallow behavior. Max's father treats him poorly, initially welcoming him into his life but then frequently becoming annoyed and short-tempered with him. There is mild, intermittent violence, as Max is roughed up by bullies on a few occasions. One of the bullies also attacks Kazaam with a baseball bat, but inflicts no harm. Some of the language feels especially dated with Max referring to one teacher as a "very angry man trapped in a woman's body" and alleges Kazaam is mentally ill by recommending a "nice building with padded walls." Insults such as "dork," "little fart," "turd," and "loser" are also used. The movie also has some prominent product placement, most notably for Pepsi and M&Ms: these are tied to Max's initial, childish wishes. Characters drink alcohol on occasion, but not to excess, although in one scene a child is offered some before a parent intervenes.
What's the story?
KAZAAM is an odd couple story that revolves around Max (Francis Capra) a friendless 12-year-old with a spiky personality, and Kazaam (Shaquille O’Neal) an ancient genie who Max awakens. Max must deal with the aftermath of his parents' divorce and a local gang of bullies, all while deciding what three wishes Kazaam should grant him.
Is it any good?
This is a comedy that isn't funny, an action movie with terrible set pieces, and a fantasy movie with plot holes you could ride a magic carpet through. Kazaam will likely leave you wishing three times over that you hadn't watched it. Decried at the time (1996) as a cynical cash-grab, it features O’Neal at the height of his basketball fame, demonstrating why a career in movies did not follow his retirement from the court.
Plot lines are picked up then discarded, while a clutch of 90s movie clichés -- a hip-hop club here, a BMX race there -- pad out a movie about two characters who can't decide what they want, are both boringly selfish, and bicker for no real reason. By the time things mercifully draw to a close, it's confirmation that the most interesting thing about Kazaam is the bizarre "false memory" it appears to have spawned about Shazaam (not to be confused with Shazam!) another genie movie that doesn't actually exist. Yes, trawling a heated online message board discussion is officially more entertaining than sitting through this.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how divorce is portrayed in Kazaam. How has his parents divorce impacted Max's relationship with them? Do you think the movie deals with the subject realistically? Movies to help kids understand divorce.
How does the movie portray bullying? How does Max behave toward the bullies? Have you ever encountered a situation like that?
A number of commercial brands feature heavily in the movie. Why do you think these featured in the story? What are your thoughts on product placement in movies? What is the impact of advertising on kids?
Did some of the language in the movie feel dated? Why is language important? Discuss how language and meaning can change over the years.
Shaquille O’Neal is better known as a basketball player than an actor. What other sports stars have you seen in movies?
- In theaters: July 17, 1996
- On DVD or streaming: October 16, 2018
- Cast: Shaquille O'Neal, Francis Capra, Ally Walker
- Director: Paul Michael Glaser
- Studio: Buena Vista Pictures
- Genre: Comedy
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy
- Run time: 93 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: action violence and language
- Last updated: August 6, 2020
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