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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 The Aeronauts is a loosely historical hot air balloon adventure set in Victorian London. It tells the story of early meteorologist James Glaisher (Eddie Redmayne), who believes that weather can be predicted -- an outlandish idea at the time -- and perilously flies higher than anyone ever has to get data. He's joined by courageous pilot Amelia Wren (Felicity Jones), who completes the mission and saves their lives with her tenacity, toughness, intelligence, and strength. She's a wonderful role model who's based on the world's first female aeronaut, Sophie Blanchard (who ballooned for Napoleon). But it's worth noting that Wren's role in the story is revisionist history: Glaisher's real-life co-adventurer was a man named Henry Tracey Coxdell. While there's no drinking, smoking, swearing, or sex, characters are frequently in grave danger, and a man does plummet to his death (impact not shown). Others fall and survive (including a dog), a person slams into the ground and is dragged along, and one character gets a nosebleed after a tussle. Viewers will come away with an understanding of how the layers of the atmosphere are different, as well as messages about the value of science, perseverance, courage, curiosity, and humility.
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What's the story?
In THE AERONAUTS, scientist James Glaisher (Eddie Redmayne) wants to measure air patterns and temperatures in order to predict the weather, a task his peers consider a ridiculous idea. But when he teams up with daring pilot Amelia Wren (Felicity Jones), they come up with a plan to fly a hot air balloon higher than anyone ever has. Once they're in the air, their majestic journey quickly turns into a fight for survival as they face the elements.
Is it any good?
The characters are inspiring, the story elements fascinating, and the visual effects breathtaking, but The Aeronauts still falls flat. Writer-director Tom Harper unspools the real-life record-setting balloon journey in close to real time, which creates a problem: That's a lot of happy floating time before nature threatens the expedition. One result is many wistful looks up toward the sky paired with "important" conversation that's obvious padding. Another solution is to recount Wren and Glaisher's backstory and motivations through flashbacks, a standard cinematic device that doesn't work smoothly here. Sometimes it seems like they've jumped forward in time, or you're not sure whose story we're looking at. Chances are good some kids will be confused, and since the technique is used a lot, that's a problem.
This is especially disappointing given the movie's potential to positively influence youth. Through Glaisher and Wren's adventure, scientific experimentation feels exciting. Yes, there's lots of fiddling with gauges and talk of structural integrity, but the notion of using scientific research to improve and save lives against the backdrop of being caught in a storm of Twister proportions is captivating. Wren embodies what it means to be bold in the sense that she steps outside of Victorian-era gender roles to follow her passion, as well as in the sense that she's fearless. Playing her, Jones emotes regret and caution while rediscovering her own will and courage. When she climbs on top of the balloon to break the ice that's preventing a descent, it's a thrilling moment for women: With dramatic flair, Amelia uses her heel to break a symbolic glass ceiling. The gorgeous shots of the balloon gliding through the sky and weathering the storm are the stuff artists dream of creating, and -- factoring in the death-defying actions and stunts -- the result is a cinematic wonder. Still, just like some scientific trials, The Aeronauts may have all the elements of success, but the outcome doesn't yield the desired results.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the importance of representation in cinema. Do you think it's OK to add underrepresented characters into a fact-based historical story for the purpose of inclusiveness?
How does Glaisher's curiosity influence his actions? When can curiosity improve the lives of humanity? What other professions benefit from curious people?
How does Amelia Wren defy gender expectations for her era? Is she a positive role model?
John Trew makes an argument that some people reach for the stars, while others see to it that they reach them. How is this a demonstration of humility, and why is that an important life skill? Do we need more movies about those who aren't in the spotlight but make sure that achievements happen?
- In theaters: December 6, 2019
- Cast: Felicity Jones, Eddie Redmayne, Himesh Patel
- Director: Tom Harper
- Studio: Amazon Studios
- Genre: Action/Adventure
- Topics: Adventures, Great Boy Role Models, Great Girl Role Models, History, Science and Nature
- Character Strengths: Courage, Curiosity, Humility, Perseverance
- Run time: 100 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: some peril and thematic elements
- Last updated: December 09, 2019
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