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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Karate Kids is a classic '80s martial arts movie that's still a fine pick for families with older tweens. The Karate Kid was re-made in 2010 with a younger perspective starring Jaden Smith. It has a fair number of swear words (including "s--t"), insults, and fights -- as well as a scene of marijuana use. This is a standard new-kid-in-town flick, but it's also got soul thanks to the teacher-student relationship between wise Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita) and lonely teen Daniel (Ralph Macchio). Issues of class, race, (teen) romance, and even war are explored in this coming-of-age tale, where karate is a metaphor for life.
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What's the story?
In THE KARATE KID, fter moving from New Jersey to a small apartment complex in Southern California with his single mom, Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) finds himself an outsider at his new suburban high school. The cool guys in school drive expensive convertibles and take karate so seriously that they're more than happy to beat Daniel silly again and again. Daniel's one pretty friend Ali (Elisabeth Shue) is unfortunately also the ex-girlfriend of Daniel's chief bully, blackbelt-champion Johnny (William Zabka). Unable to adequately defend himself, Daniel turns to his apartment's Okinawan super, Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita), for help. Miyagi agrees to teach Daniel karate -- but in his own, unique way. After some unorthodox training (waxing cars, sanding floors, painting fences, catching flies), Miyagi convinces Johnny's aggressive karate instructor (Martin Kove) to make his pupils back off ... until the next karate championship.
Is it any good?
This movie isn't a slick, angsty coming-of-age drama, but there's so much to just enjoy about it. Shue's Ali is sweet -- especially because she doesn't mind Daniel's working-class background -- but the teens' romance is filler for the central relationship in the movie: that of Daniel and Mr. Miyagi. Not many movies can make multi-generational friendships seem authentic, but Macchio and the late Morita managed to achieve a closeness that was believably touching. When Daniel tells Mr. Miyagi "You're my best friend," it's not awkward -- it's true. Daniel and Mr. Miyagi are a more relatable Luke and Obi Wan or Harry and Dumbledore, and it's that archetypal teacher-hero dynamic that ultimately makes The Karate Kid a winner.
If you say "wax on!" to anyone born in the late '60s or the '70s, they'll immediately answer "wax off!" -- that's how big a cultural phenomenon The Karate Kid was in the '80s. Like Ferris Bueller's Day Off or Dirty Dancing, this is just one of those special, mid-'80s classics from which fans can quote countless scenes. And despite some dated details (the big hair, the track suits, the funny-looking cars and wardrobe), the story holds up remarkably well, because Daniel is a high-school Everyman. He's not Gossip Girl rich or Zac Efron handsome or extraordinarily gifted in any way; he's just a new kid in town who's willing to train hard, actually get to know an older Japanese man most teenage guys would have made fun of, and better himself in the process. Oh, and he does a killer job at winning the girl, the championship, and the hearts of moviegoers everywhere.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about whether Daniel is the stereotypical "new boy in town" in The Karate Kid. How does he feel about starting over in a completely new place? How does Daniel's relationship with Mr. Miyagi change both of their lives?
This is at its root, an underdog story. What other movies fit into this genre? What are some similarities between the main characters' journeys? Who helps them? Who are their rivals?
How do class and financial status affect Daniel's place in the high-school hierarchy? Ali's country-club parents treat Daniel shabbily. Why? Kids: How do you treat people from different backgrounds or those who are new in town?
- In theaters: June 22, 1984
- On DVD or streaming: June 7, 2005
- Cast: Elisabeth Shue, Pat Morita, Ralph Macchio
- Director: John G. Avildsen
- Studio: Sony Pictures
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Sports and Martial Arts, Friendship, Misfits and Underdogs
- Character strengths: Courage, Perseverance, Self-control
- Run time: 127 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: thematic intensity and mild violence
- Last updated: September 21, 2019
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