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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Christmas Project is an earnest and well-intentioned story focusing on a 12-year-old boy and brothers who deal with a bully, a pretty girl, and doing the right thing at Christmas time. Boys throw punches and play pranks on each other. A boy lies on the ground with a bloody nose. Another is punched and his teeth are bloody. A bully repeatedly takes cookies and other things from kids who are afraid of him. He breaks a boy's glasses and vandalizes a prized pirate ship. A pet chicken is mistakenly roasted for dinner. Understanding parents teach their children to be generous and kind, even to bullies.
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What's the story?
In THE CHRISTMAS PROJECT, The Buckleys are a close family with four boys under 13 and a baby on the way. Matthew (Jacob Buster), second oldest, knows he's going to be a writer one day and it's his adult voice that provides narration. He daily faces a bully named Finn (Gabe White) who sometimes just grabs Matthew and dumps him in the trash. "How do you love your enemy if they won't stop hurting you?" Matthew wonders. To his frustration, the Buckley's Christmas tradition of "elving," secretly giving gifts to people who are lonely and/or needy, focuses on Finn and his family. Night after night, as they deposit gifts at Finn's rickety old door, Matthew begins to recognize that Finn might not be such a bad guy when he's at home taking care of his siblings. When Finn anonymously pulls a mean prank that humiliates Matthew in front of their class, a friend tries to expose Finn. Before that can happen, Matthew jumps up to take the blame, saving Finn. You get the sense that Matthew is learning not only empathy for those less fortunate than himself but also that he is becoming a person who believes in doing the right thing.
Is it any good?
This movie may feel a bit generic in its opening moments but patience will pay off as it models humor, smarts, generosity, and patience as qualities kids want to embody. The story is told with warmth and through language and situations that tweens will appreciate and understand. The acting and writing of Good Luck, Charlie and other high-quality TV fare come to mind in this sweet family story. Those familiar with the classic A Christmas Story will also find echoes of that film's unsentimental view of childhood here.
A weak plot line threads throughout regarding which boy will be the first to snatch "the Christmas catalogue" (as if there were only one!) from the mailbox and thereby somehow get the best gift. That makes no sense on its own, but less so since the time frame is only days before Christmas. Still, that's a minor quibble. Overall there's much for kids and their families to enjoy in The Christmas Project.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why Matthew doesn't ask his parents for help when he is being bullied by Finn in The Christmas Project. Do you think it's better for kids to handle bullies on their own? Why is it a good idea to talk to a parent or teacher?
Matthew deals with unfairness in his own family. As second oldest he feels that he always comes in second. Do you think he feels differently by the end of the story? Why?
How do you think writing helps Matthew cope with his problems? What activity helps you work through your issues?
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