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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Von Trapp Family: A Life of Music recreates the story so beautifully told in The Sound of Music: A talented, reconstituted family struggles with surging Nazism in Austria in the late 1930s. This movie is based on the book Memories Before and After The Sound of Music, an autobiography by the oldest Von Trapp daughter, Agathe (called Liesl in the classic musical). Though there is music -- the children singing together, their first performances, some solo selections -- the film is a drama. Early scenes depict events and emotions surrounding the death of Captain Von Trapp's wife, the mother of Agathe and six other children. Sequences set during the German-Austrian "unification" are suspenseful, and, in one instance, Agathe witnesses a brutal attack. Still, it's the same uplifting, heartfelt story with a few significant changes that come from the book.
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What's the story?
Told in a series of flashbacks, THE VON TRAPP FAMILY: A LIFE OF MUSIC recounts the tale of a large, loving, musically talented family in 1930s Austria. When Captain Georg Von Trapp (Matthew Macfadyen) loses his beloved wife and the mother of his seven children, the oldest daughter, Agathe (played by Eliza Bennett as a young adult and Rosemary Harris as the older Agathe) takes over all the maternal responsibilities. Close to her father and fearful of losing him to Maria (Yvonne Catterfeld), the novitiate nun turned nanny with whom he's falling in love, Agathe is troubled and behaves badly. Events in Salzburg, however, bring the family close together. Germany is now ruled hand and heart by Adolf Hitler and his supporters. The Nazis are moving quickly to overtake an economically strapped Austria, and some of its citizens have signed on to the evil propaganda. With the aid of her lifelong friend, Sigi (Johannes Nussbaum), Agathe's awareness of impending danger is heightened. Joining Maria, the young woman must convince her patriotic but naive father that the family's only chance for survival is to use their musical talents to escape Salzburg and make a new life in America.
Is it any good?
Solid performances by the principal cast, lovely imagery, and a heartwarming tale bring this more dramatic version of the classic musical The Sound of Music to life. Based on the real-life events described in Agathe Von Trapp's autobiography, the movie highlights characters and details new to viewers. Particularly moving (and, spoiler alert, ultimately shattering) is the relationship between Agathe and her lifelong friend, Sigi. Colonel Von Trapp as played by Matthew Macfadyen is warm and present and provides a stark contrast to Agathe's growing understanding of the events that will follow. The film introduces the Von Trapp family's relationship with famous opera star Lotte Lehman (Annette Dasch). All in all, a nice addendum to the iconic musical, and the movie stands on its own as well. Fine for families; however, two poignant deaths make it questionable for very young or super-sensitive kids.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how filmmakers often use a personal story to bring history to life on-screen. How does watching the Von Trapp family's drama promote understanding of what all of Europe was experiencing during the rise of Nazism? Are the roots of World War II made clearer to you?
Discuss the differences between the real Sigi, Agathe's young male friend in this film, and the fictional Rolfe, the messenger with whom Liesl was in love in The Sound of Music. Why do you think the filmmakers chose to make Rolfe a Nazi sympathizer? How might portraying the real story of Sigi have changed your feelings about the musical?
What was the purpose of telling the tale in flashbacks from the point of view of an elderly Agathe? How did the remembered story resonate in the present day? What does that say about the commonality of human experience over time and place?
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