A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Gives a flavor of the culture of Siam (Thailand).
There's a lot of fun made of the king for his poor grasp of English; he's made into a fool. While the film is set in the country know known as Thailand, none of the primary characters is Asian. The king is also sexist, thinking women more "lowly" than men in general, and certainly much lower than him. Many of the songs teach life lessons, like how to deal with fear and how to learn about a new culture.
Positive Role Models
Anna, the teacher, is intelligent, forthright, and stands up to the king. The king is portrayed as stubborn and sexist. The king has dozens of wives and hundreds of children, which may bewilder kids.
Violence & Scariness
The king threatens to whip a slave girl who tries to escape to be with her lover. Talk of someone drowning.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Some close dancing, but no kissing or sexual behavior. There's a lot of talk, however, about women being "made to please men" and the king has multiple wives. When the Thai ladies are dressed up in European gowns, they "wear practically no undergarments," prompting them, in a moment of shock, to hike their dresses and flash English men. But nothing is seen on screen.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
The king passes out cigars, though no one smokes onscreen.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that this film characterizes the ancient Asian culture of Siam (now Thailand) as backward and sexist. The king has dozens of wives and hundreds of children, which may bewilder kids. Also confusing, the roles of the main Thai characters are played by white and Latino Americans. But the story's music and enchanting characters are perfect for kids, who are likely to see the king's poor grasp of English as endearing and fun. But older children and adults may find the portrayal of the king racist. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
Like Breakfast at Tiffany's and Flower Drum Song, THE KING AND I is a classic movie with legions of followers and great music. But it's also, like those films, fraught with racial misrepresentation that may make some viewers uncomfortable. The real treat of this film is the charm of Brynner's king and the songs. The songs! Children will love "Getting to Know You" and "Whistle a Happy Tune." Romantics will love "Shall We Dance." And all viewers will likely be mesmerized by the performance of Uncle Tom's Cabin.
To a young child, the king's silly sayings -- like his dramatic "etcetera, etcetera, etcetera" -- and his odd dictated letter offering to send the U.S. some elephants as beasts of burden, are endearing and fun. But adults may be disturbed by how inept and parochial this king appears. Add to that the fact that none of the primary Asian characters are played by Asian actors, and you have a recipe for racial misrepresentation. Like Flower Drum Song and Mickey Rooney's appalling Asian caricature in Breakfast at Tiffany's, the Asian characters here are shown as meek, silly, and absurd. Anna is a remarkably strong woman for the 1860s, which makes for some great verbal sparring between her and the king. But the idea of a white woman coming into a foreign country and "civilizing" them -- while it sure goes with the thinking of the time period -- is disturbing.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.