A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that although The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is a fantasy movie with elements that might look family friendly, it dives into some fairly mature and dark waters -- very much like the often brutal and terrifying Grimm fairy tales that inspire director Terry Gilliam. The imagery, while dazzling, is also frightening and even nightmarish at times (and the first 40 minutes of the movie are very disjointed, which may turn off some viewers), so it's not an age-appropriate pick for younger kids. Plus, the devil is one of the movie's major characters, and the "heroes" aren't exactly shining role models, either -- many of them keep secrets and deceive people, often for selfish reasons. And the 16-year-old heroine has sex and is seen smoking a cigarette the next morning (presumably after the act itself). Many viewers will be curious to see Heath Ledger's final performance and how Gilliam finished the film around his absence, but Ledger is ultimately just one member of an ensemble cast and not really the film's "star."
What's the story?
Doctor Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) runs a traveling carnival show featuring a magic mirror that leads to fantastic worlds. Long ago he made a deal with the devil, who's known as Mr. Nick (Tom Waits). Parnassus' daughter Valentina (Lily Cole) was the prize -- and the deadline for the deal is nearly up. So Doctor Parnassus strikes a new deal with Mr. Nick: The first one to collect five souls wins. Meanwhile, after one night's show, the doctor's crew -- including Percy (Vern Troyer) and Anton (Andrew Garfield) -- discovers and rescues a hanged man. The man, Tony (Heath Ledger), can remember nothing, but Doctor Parnassus is convinced that he's been sent for a special reason. And there are many more secrets to be revealed. ...
Is it any good?
Though it's a fantasy, Doctor Parnassus isn't really a family movie, and most of the elements here are probably much too dark for young kids. Ledger's untimely death partway through production -- and director Terry Gilliam's subsequent, clever method of filling in the resulting blanks by using other actors (Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell, and Jude Law) -- will no doubt encompass most of the discussion around THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS. But that aside, it really is an outstanding work of personal vision and dazzling imagery. It's a rare thing: a fantasy film filled with gorgeous computer effects that also has a dark, mature sensibility and doesn't rely completely on said effects.
Gilliam is incapable of telling a story casually, and his personal obsessions often come along as a bonus. The director's very specific way of looking at things -- i.e. his use of space, lighting and cutting -- will thrill more adventurous moviegoers, but may upset audiences looking for something a bit simpler and more streamlined.
Talk to your kids about ...
How do you think Gilliam's decision to "replace" Heath Ledger with three other actors worked out? Is the movie meant to be seen as a tribute to Ledger?
Is the movie more or less scary than films that have more outright violence? Do scenes have to be violent to be scary?
Why would someone be tempted to make a deal with the devil? Is Doctor Parnassus' "prize" for winning one of his deals a blessing or a curse?
Doctor Parnassus believes that the world goes on because people tell stories. Do you agree or disagree?
- In theaters: December 25, 2009
- On DVD or streaming: April 26, 2010
- Cast: Christopher Plummer, Colin Farrell, Heath Ledger, Johnny Depp, Jude Law
- Director: Terry Gilliam
- Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
- Genre: Fantasy
- Run time: 122 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: violent images, some sensuality, language and smoking
For kids who love fantasies
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.