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The Kid (1921)
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 Kid is Charlie Chaplin's first feature-length release, a silent picture from 1921. The film chronicles another episode in the life of his famous character, the Tramp, who this time finds an abandoned baby and decides to raise it as his own. It contains plenty of violence, used as a tool of Chaplin's physical slapstick humor -- lots of punches are thrown, objects are used to compromise others, and struggles and chases ensue. All these elements succeed in achieving their goal of laughs, however, and the exaggerated nature of the conflicts makes them seem silly and humorous rather than scary or realistic. Beneath the comedy, there are definitely some more serious thematic elements at work -- most significantly a child being traumatically separated from a parent. In that regard, the opening title proves to be true: "A picture with a smile -- and perhaps, a tear." Since it's silent, the film may hold little interest for kids who aren't able to get on board with the absence of dialog. But for those who are able to appreciate Chaplin's work -- and there is definitely plenty to appreciate -- the film is truly a piece of history, offering a glimpse into days past, along with -- of course -- many laughs.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
A single mother, faced with raising her infant son alone, chooses to abandon him in the back of a fancy automobile, thinking he will find a better life in someone else's care. But when the car gets stolen by two thugs who leave the baby on a street corner, abandoned once again, the kid begins a life his mother never anticipated. This time it's the Tramp (Charlie Chaplin) who discovers the child (played by then child-star Jackie Coogan), and, when he can't find anyone to hand the baby off to, he takes it in as his own. Five years down the line, the two are a certifiable father-son pair with an inseparable bond, but, when the news gets out that the Tramp is not the kid's real father, their life together is placed in danger.
Is it any good?
In the modern age of voice-over and extreme close-ups, the silent medium offers a refreshing take on filmmaking, and viewers willing to try something they're not used to will be paid back in full. The very physical edge to Chaplin's slapstick humor relies on acting with the entire body, and as he and his costars attempt to communicate a story without the use of dialogue, the resulting style achieves a kind of genuineness that almost doesn't seem possible with sound. In these full-body shots, Chaplin's agility is on display as well -- as he dodges punches and climbs across rooftops, his gracefulness is almost shocking. But it nearly goes unnoticed in light of the jokes it serves to produce -- for yes, all these years later, the raw humor Chaplin creates is still very funny. It wouldn't be untrue to say that these elements arise in every film Chaplin made, but that's no problem -- in fact, it's welcome. For therein lies the magic of the Chaplin style and the certainty that the Tramp will continue to delight audiences for years to come.
For many, questioning the quality of a Chaplin film seems almost humorous. History speaks for itself: he iconic Tramp character, whose oddball attempts to integrate himself into society have made viewers laugh and cry for decades, has solidified himself as one of the most timeless images in Hollywood history. And he's no exception in THE KID. Even in his first feature-length appearance, Chaplin (who wrote, directed, produced, starred in, and composed the score for the film) seems to leap off the screen with his endearing, larger-than-life persona. The Tramp, as he confronts very real struggles and makes very human mistakes, truly manages to transcend time, speaking to the universal quirkiness and naivety of the human spirit, and the underlying earnestness and sincerity of the film shines through.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the Tramp as a parent -- what does he do right, and what does he do wrong?
Families also can discuss the stylistic aspects of the film. What are the biggest changes between filmmaking in the early days of Hollywood and filmmaking now? What do you think of the film being silent? Is there anything that silent films provide that "talking" pictures can't?
What do you think of the way the Tramp makes a living, and what kind of morals does he seem to have? As an outsider, how does he relate to other members of society?
How is violence used in the film? What do you think of mixing it with humor?
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