The Legend of Johnny Lingo

Movie review by
Renee Schonfeld, Common Sense Media
The Legend of Johnny Lingo Movie Poster Image
Earnest but amateurish tween fairy tale set in South Seas.
  • G
  • 2003
  • 91 minutes

Parents say

age 8+
Based on 2 reviews

Kids say

age 5+
Based on 1 review

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Beautiful photography introduces some islands of the South Pacific and century-old methods of communication and trade.

Positive Messages

Appearances can be deceiving: Even the wildest, most unkempt, and seemingly ignorant person can turn out be a gem. Don't be afraid to admit if you've made a mistake. Riches should be used for the benefit of others. "Never despise the small things; they have the potential to become great." Amid all the positive stuff, there's also some potty humor.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Lots of tribal stereotypes: wise leader, headstrong youth, giggling and jealous young women hoping to be noticed. The movie is set more than a century ago, when men bartered for their brides; women are represented as goods to be traded for rather than equal partners. One father is a verbally abusive drunk who excels at name-calling and put-downs. On the other hand, a surrogate father is portrayed as an ideal parent, showing how trust and patience can nurture and change even an outcast's life.

Violence & Scariness

A big storm carries a cradled baby to shore. Some bullying, including teens throwing fruit at other teens. A fire burns down a hut with an infant inside; the infant is saved. A Polynesian tribe holds a trader for ransom and verbally threatens him. A parental figure gets sick and dies (offscreen).

Sexy Stuff

One gentle kiss between sweethearts.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

One father is frequently depicted as abusive and drunk.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that there's some ugly bullying in this earnest family movie. Two kids are teased ruthlessly, called names, and laughed at. In addition, one very mean, perpetually intoxicated father verbally attacks a girl every time they're together. There are also a few mildly scary moments: A fire nearly takes the life of a baby, and a leading character is held for ransom with threats made on his life. A brief sequence shows a leading character in failing health, dying off camera, and mourned by his surrogate son.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byMs. Understanding August 20, 2013

Johnny Lingo Revisited

I disagree with Ms. Schonfeld re: the appeal is this movie---it was appealing and well acted, moreso than many of the over-the-top children's films made to... Continue reading
Parent of a 6-year-old Written byAileron June 4, 2013

Heartwarming and beautiful.

Very heart warming story.
Teen, 16 years old Written by0-3-2-5 January 28, 2019


I remember watching this every summer at my grandmother's when i was little,, still years later it comes into my head, truly an unforgettable movie i loved... Continue reading

What's the story?

More than 100 years ago, an infant boy washes to shore on Malio, a beautiful South Sea island. Mischievous and exuberant, the young Tama (Tausana Simei-Barton) is treated badly and passed from tribal family to tribal family, bonding only with another outcast, Mahana (Fokikovi Soakimi), a girl his own age. Seeing no future on Malio, Tama sets off on a homemade raft, hoping to find a better life and promising Mahana that he'll return for her. His journey takes him to a more progressive island, where he's raised, taught, and nourished by the wealthy and famous Johnny Lingo (George Henare), the most successful trader in the South Pacific. Years later Tama, now the charming and educated heir apparent to Johnny Lingo, returns to Malio to keep his promise to Mahana. What he finds is a homecoming both surprising and improbable.

Is it any good?

Whatever appeal there is in this well-meaning film comes from the extraordinary beauty of its setting; the filmmakers make the most of it. Otherwise, it's a sweet story, but it doesn't have any depth or originality that would really engage a family audience. The characters are one-dimensional, and with very few exceptions, the acting is unprofessional and clumsy. Positive messages aplenty are delivered, but without subtlety or grace, they simply sound trite and preachy.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the bullying and teasing in this movie. How did Tama and Mahana deal with it? What are some things you can do if you or a friend is bullied or teased? How do you know if you are the bully?

  • Mahana is very different from the other girls in her tribe. How does she foreshadow the role of girls and women in today's world?

  • What was the "legend" of Johnny Lingo? How does he measure up to other legends you've heard or read about?

  • Cultures change over the years. Is there anything about life in the islands in this movie that you wish was still a part of our culture? What do you think has changed for the better?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love travel and romance

Themes & Topics

Browse titles with similar subject matter.

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