The Blue Bird
By Renee Longstreet,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Shirley Temple fantasy has some scares, outdated ideas.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Intended to entertain, not inform.
Being grateful, being satisfied, and finding happiness with your own family and friends are promoted heavily in this film. Stated messages include: "You can't be unhappy inside yourself and not make others unhappy, too"; "If you're thoughtless and thankless, you'll never be happy"; and "It's not wise to spend too much time in [The Land of] Luxury"; and "We're not poor, we just haven't any money -- there's a difference."
Positive Role Models
Unlike the earlier always charming, kind, helpful characters played by Shirley Temple, in this film she begins as selfish, willful, and spoiled, but her adventures transform her. The parents are wise, loving, and loyal. Wealthy people, personified as "Mr. and Mrs. Luxury" are portrayed as materialistic, unkind, and self-involved. Released in 1940, there is no ethnic diversity.
Violence & Scariness
Two children walk through a spooky graveyard with eerie music and sounds of a raven and an owl; they're scared after a warning that the graves open and the dead arrive at midnight. A comedic chase sequence in a mansion shows people and objects falling. A massive storm with lightning and thunder results in a threatening fire from which the kids and their friends must escape. Trees fall; the fire comes very close; one woman appears to be trapped and killed in the fire.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Mr. Luxury is shown with an adult beverage and a cigar as he reads.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that The Blue Bird is a departure from the typical adorable Shirley Temple movie, with a few scenes which may frighten younger or more sensitive kids: a suspenseful walk through a dark graveyard, and a raging storm with fire and lightning that threatens the heroes. One leading adult character (transformed from a cat) appears to be killed in the storm. The film, based on a play from 1910, includes some notions that may seem simplistic and old-fashioned by today's standards. One concept is that the dead (in this case two grandparents) depend upon the thoughts of their loved ones so that they can come to life for short periods. Another story component shows a community of children (all Caucasian) who live in the clouds as they wait to be born, sailing off to their expectant families in a magical sailboat.
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Where to Watch
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What's the Story?
On the eve of her daddy's departure for the Napoleonic wars in the early 19th century, sad Mytyl (Shirley Temple) and her little brother Tyltyl (Johnny Russell) are awakened by Berylune, a strange, magical old woman. Mytyl, who is noted for her discontent and thoughtlessness, has a lot to learn about happiness and gratitude; Berylune is about to teach her. First, the old fairy transforms their pet dog and cat into human travel companions; then she introduces the children to Light, a beautiful woman who will guide them on a search for THE BLUE BIRD of Happiness. It's a grand adventure. Mytyl and Tyltyl journey to The Past where they see their loving, but deceased grandparents, to The Land of Luxury, where they encounter riches beyond compare, and finally, to The Kingdom of the Future, where beautiful children living in the clouds await their birth. Along the way, there are dangers, great moments of joy and sadness, and a blooming awareness of what it means to be happy and thankful.
Is It Any Good?
While it has some good comic moments, special effects that really were special for the time, and Miss Temple is in fine form (especially in her one musical number), it's a second-rate effort. It's too much the copycat, with not enough original charm and wit. For kids who understand the difference between real danger and movie danger, it's fine, but it doesn't hold up to comparison with the earlier black-and-white charmers.
The Blue Bird was supposed to be 20th Century Fox's creative response to the amazing success of MGM's Wizard of Oz. Using some of the same elements: fantasy, an heroic girl and her humanized companions, a transition from black-and-white to color, it was, instead, a complete flop. In fact, The Blue Bird marked the end of Shirley Temple's reign as Hollywood's box office princess. The failure was blamed on the audience's refusal to accept their beloved star as an initially unlikeable child, but the reality is more complex.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about the origin of this movie. This film was made soon after The Wizard of Oz. Discuss some of the ways the filmmakers used similar ideas and elements in The Blue Bird. How do you feel about movies that borrow from earlier ones?
The opening sequence shows Mytyl trapping and capturing a bird to keep for herself. How, if at all, have attitudes and behaviors about treating animals changed since this movie was made in 1940?
In all of her other movies, the character Shirley Temple played was funny, loving, generous, and helpful. How is she different in this one? Did you like the change? Why or why not?
- In theaters: January 15, 1940
- On DVD or streaming: March 27, 2007
- Cast: Johnny Russell, Nigel Bruce, Shirley Temple
- Director: Walter Lang
- Studio: Twentieth Century Fox
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Brothers and Sisters, Cats, Dogs, and Mice
- Run time: 88 minutes
- MPAA rating: G
- Last updated: December 19, 2022
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