The King and I

Movie review by
Heather Boerner, Common Sense Media
The King and I Movie Poster Image
A boisterous, big-costumed classic musical.
  • G
  • 1956
  • 133 minutes

Parents say

age 10+
Based on 4 reviews

Kids say

age 11+
Based on 5 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Educational Value

Gives a flavor of the culture of Siam (Thailand).

Positive Messages

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 & Representations

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.

Sexy Stuff

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.

Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

The king passes out cigars, though no one smokes onscreen.

What 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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 13 year old Written byTsion March 18, 2009

A Decent Old-Fashoined Musical...

THE KING AND I isn't as grand as I remembered it. In fact, some parts make you want to fast forward very quickly. Some parts are rude (casting whites in... Continue reading
Parent of a 7 and 9 year old Written byadaMadman October 17, 2014

Just a reminder about the ending (SPOILER ALERT)

We enjoyed it completely and utterly (kids age 7 and 9) but they were devastated by the very ending, which is not a happy one. My older son is a little bit extr... Continue reading
Teen, 15 years old Written byssonday22 July 7, 2015

Why?

Any teenager should not watch this play! It is way too easy to misunderstand! Why did they bring this back not on Broadway? That wasn't a good decision! No... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byturtlekins June 11, 2009

Great Movie For All Ages

This movie is very good for everyone! Children that are used to watching family guy will find that this is much more amusing! One of my favorite movies of all t... Continue reading

What's the story?

The classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical is based on Margaret Langdon's 1944 novel Anna and the King of Siam, which itself is based on the true story of Anna Leonowens (Deborah Kerr), an English woman in the 1800s who, after her husband dies, takes a job as teacher to the multitude of children sired by the King of Siam, King Mongkut. Anna finds when she arrives that the job and her new life are both more wonderful and more frustrating than she could have imagined. The children of the palace are delightful and sweet, and the king (played by Yul Brynner, who won an Academy Award for the role) is enchanting and progressive, but also very sexist. She's confronted with the king's dozens of wives as well as European beliefs that the king, who wants to make his reign "modern" and "scientific," is a barbarian. Can she take care of herself, her young son, and her charges, and help the king keep his kingdom?

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.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Thai history and culture. Were the clothes, dance styles, and culture in the movie true to the culture?

  • What do you think about movies that don't cast Asian actors in Asian roles? Can you think of other examples of that happening?

  • Do you think you could play the role of someone of a different race fairly? Do you think the actors in this film were fair?

Movie details

Themes & Topics

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