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 Flying Machine is a movie commissioned to celebrate the life of Polish composer Frederic Chopin through a story that features his music and biographical trivia. The content is both educational and fine for the entire family, but there's a 30-minute animated movie-within-a-movie that contains no dialogue (though it does have separation between a girl and her father), so it might be a better fit for kids who can handle the wordless part of the story. Kids (and parents!) will not only learn a good bit about Chopin's life but also be reminded of the importance of work-life balance.
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What's the story?
The live-action framing story of THE FLYING MACHINE follows London-based single mom Georgie (Heather Graham), who's too overworked to put away her cell phone during a piano performance that she's dragged to by her kids -- tween Jane (Kizzy Mee) and young Fred (Jamie Munns). The performance consists of renowned Chinese pianist Lang Lang accompanying a stop-action animated short called "The Magic Piano" about a flying piano that takes two kids around Europe. After "The Magic Piano" ends, the film transitions back to live action, and Jane and Fred are sucked onto a "real" flying machine that travels to Chopin's birthplace and other significant locales. Georgie follows along on her own flying machine with Lang Lang present to play Chopin's "Etudes."
Is it any good?
There's a fairly considerable discrepancy in quality between the live-action framing story and the melancholy but beautiful animated short that's featured at the beginning of the movie. "The Magic Piano" is the wordless tale of a father who loses his home and is forced to install his young daughter with her little cousin, a boy who likes to dress like a vampire. After discovering a piano in an alley, the two cousins are off on their own fantastic journey, as the father longs to be reunited with his daughter. The touching story is beautifully accompanied by Chopin's music and ends memorably.
But once the story switches back to live action, it loses depth. Graham, who was once so charming an actress, overacts, while Lang Lang, her virtuoso sidekick as they follow the kids around Europe (in the air, naturally), strikes a series of exaggerated expressions. Jane narrates details about Chopin, who is after all the point of the movie, but viewers may wish that the entire film had been stop-action animated. Ultimately "The Magic Piano" is worth four stars and the mediocre live-action parts two -- so, as an average, this is a three-star film of particular value to budding pianists and animation fans.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about mixed-media movies. Can you think of examples of animated segments in otherwise live-action movies? Which ones worked well within the larger story? How does this one compare?
What did you learn about Chopin from The Flying Machine? Does it make you want to listen to more of his classical music? Consider listening to Chopin's most famous compositions as a family or reading one of several children's books or bios about his life.
The movie contains a "story within a story." What did you think of animated "The Magic Piano" segment? Which part of the movie did you like better -- the live action story or the dialogue-free animated tale?
- On DVD or streaming: December 16, 2013
- Cast: Heather Graham, Kizzy Mee, Lang Lang
- Directors: Dorota Kobiela, Geoff Lindsey, Martin Clapp
- Studio: Gravitas Ventures
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Music and Sing-Along
- Run time: 77 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Last updated: November 11, 2020
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