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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that National Velvet, an appealing family film released in 1944 and set in 1920s England, presents two strong female role models, both of whom succeed in fields of sport that had not been previously open to their gender: long-distance swimming and British horse-jumping. It's a movie with strong messages about dreams, risk, determination, and honesty. The only mildly frightening moments come when the preteen heroine faints, when she falls from her horse, and when the horse is ill for a time. In one lengthy sequence set during the Grand National race, a number of horses and their riders fall (in wide shots), but almost all quickly get up; no injuries are seen or referenced. A young man confesses his responsibility for a riding accident years earlier in which someone was killed. The same young man is seen drinking beer with two cronies, and he gets very drunk.
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What's the story?
In NATIONAL VELVET, when young Velvet Brown (Elizabeth Taylor) meets Mi Taylor (Mickey Rooney), the two immediately connect, bonding over their love of horses. He came to town because he found Velvet's mother's name in his late father's address book, but he has no idea what their relationship was. Velvet wins an uncontrollable horse in a lottery that she names Pi; she decides that Pi must be in the Grand National race and goes against the adults' wishes by riding him herself. She wins but is disqualified because she's a girl. Still, the family returns home in triumph, knowing that they won what was important to them. Appearance and endorsement offers follow, but Velvet knows that it's time to move on. So does Mi, who says good-bye to Mr. and Mrs. Brown. When Velvet hears that he's gone, she asks if she can tell him about his father, who helped Mrs. Brown achieve an important dream. Mrs. Brown consents, and Velvet races after Mi, catching up to him just as the movie ends.
Is it any good?
This is a heartwarming story about dreams -- wise and foolish, big and small, realized and impossible -- and about the way these dreams change those who are lucky enough to dream them. But it also deals with what happens after the dream comes true.
The film also conveys the importance of faith -- Velvet's faith in herself, Pi, and her dream; and her family's faith in her and in Mi -- and the importance of that belief and support in making the dream come true. But most of all, National Velvet is the story of a loving family, making it a wonderful starting point for a discussion of the ways that families of all kinds can teach and support each other.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why Velvet can't keep the prize, even though she won. What kinds of stereotypes about women were popular in the era of National Velvet? What kinds of stereotypes about women remain?
Why didn't Velvet want to make movies or do any of the other things people asked her to do after she won? What are the benefits and drawbacks of being a celebrity?
- In theaters: December 14, 1944
- On DVD or streaming: July 11, 2000
- Cast: Donald Crisp, Elizabeth Taylor, Mickey Rooney
- Director: Clarence Brown
- Studio: Warner Bros.
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Sports and Martial Arts, Book Characters, Friendship, Horses and Farm Animals
- Character strengths: Integrity, Perseverance
- Run time: 123 minutes
- MPAA rating: G
- Last updated: September 21, 2019
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