A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this revered ballet drama ends with a rather romanticized suicide, a plunge into the path of a train (not explicitly shown, fortunately), a startling ending for a movie that has had universal appeal for ballerinas of all ages. There is the proposal that being a successful creative artist and having a "normal" happy personal life and family at the same time just isn't possible. Characters routinely smoke cigarettes. This is not to be confused, nosiree, with the Korean-made 2005 shocker The Red Shoes, which is a modern horror-film riff on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, or the highly erotic Red Shoe Diaries films/TV sex anthologies.
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What's the story?
Boris Lemontov (Anton Walbrook) is the steely perfectionist director of an illustrious ballet company based in Monte Carlo (inspired by the real-life Ballet Russe). He hires two new rising talents, student composer Julian (Marius Goring) and young ballerina Victoria (Moira Shearer), introducing them to a demanding but sumptuous world of rehearsals, costumes, European travel, and opening nights. Boris has an all-or-nothing devotion to dance, and when Victoria and Julian fall in love, the impresario becomes destructively jealous -- not so much romantically as an autocratic, almost godlike jealousy that Victoria let anything come between her and ballet. Meanwhile Victoria becomes a star in "The Red Shoes," a new ballet based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale about a girl possessed by enchanted ballet slippers that won't stop dancing until she dies -- ominously foreshadowing Victoria's own fate.
Is it any good?
The Technicolor cinematography glows, and the "Red Shoes" ballet sequence is astounding. Admirers put the British-made RED SHOES on equal footing with Gone With the Wind as a big-budget, sprawling epic of pathos, romance, love, and loss that represents intelligent, mainstream commercial cinema at its best (and, like GWTW, it was made while postwar Europe struggled through agonizing economic malaise and rationing). As with so many MGM musicals from Hollywood, what we see, though supposedly a "stage" show, opens up into miles of sets, multiple angles, and f/x (a discarded newspaper that morphs into a man) that could only happen in the movies (though this may represent Victoria's state of mind as she gradually surrenders her grip on reality to the fairy-tale world of the dance).
While you don't have to enjoy ballet to enjoy this movie, it definitely helps, and generations of young dancers have cited this film as an inspiration –- even with the decidedly sad finale, itself true to so many ballets like "Romeo & Juliet" and "Swan Lake" that end in casualties.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Boris's belief that a great dancer must be completely devoted to the art and nothing else. Do you think this is true of other creative pursuits -- painting, music, filmmaking -- as well? Ask art-minded kids how much they would sacrifice to follow their passions, and where they would draw the line. You can also study the history of the real-life Russian-led ballet troupes that inspired this film, and talk about the notoriously domineering personalities of George Balanchine and Sergei Diaghilev, who sought to exercise Svengali-like influence over prima ballerinas. We highly recommend a well-distributed, gossipy documentary on dance history, Ballet Russes, as a companion to The Red Shoes.
For kids who love music and dance
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.
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