A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that while Disney toned down Mark Twain's story, there are mature social themes here, including: references to a father beating his son; an oblique comment about a man who ran away from the Civil War; folk superstitions such as curing warts with a dead cat in the graveyard; the difficulty an aunt faces in raising her orphaned nephews; whippings as punishment for misbehaving children; an alcoholic who is suspected of murder; poor "river folk" who travel the Mississippi looking for work; and, a Native American as a cold-hearted killer. 'Parents should be aware that two characters are killed (non-explicit, but very threatening scenes), that a staggering drunk is framed for a murder, that an adult hits kids and threatens to kill them, and a boy refers to being beaten by his father. There is a funeral for a character who is thought to be dead as well as a near-lynching of a man suspected of murder. Scenes of peril include children being chased, a bible used as a defense against a knife attack, and a dream-sequence of a character in danger. Adults are unable to protect children, and children sneak away from home with references to running away.
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What's the story?
A natural leader in his small Southern town, young Tom (Jonathan Taylor Thomas) attempts to run away on a homemade raft, he tricks other boys into doing his chores, and he idolizes older boy, the loner, Huck Finn (Brad Renfro). Tom and Huck witness the death of an unscrupulous man. The murderer, Injun Joe, accuses the town drunk, Potter, and then goes after the boys chase when he realizes they know the truth. As the town prepares to punish Potter, Tom knows it's up to him to save the innocent man and punish the murderer. Adventure ensues with Tom and Huck chasing the killer and his sidekick, hunting for the map then the treasure, and finally saving the day. Along the way, Tom has time to woo schoolmate, Becky, and to attend his own funeral.
Is it any good?
While Mark Twain's original book is a romp of a ride, rich with unforgettable characters, this Disney adaptation keeps the outline but loses some of the heart of the original. Both Thomas and Renfro do a good job of portraying boys who are learning to make grown-up decisions while embarking on a dangerous adventure.
While everything works out in the end, there are plenty of references to serious issues and several scenes full of peril. This movie earns its PG rating with scary fights, knife deaths (not explicit but very menacing), and kids endangered. Tom acts with conscience and stands up to his friend, Huck, as well as to his fear of Injun Joe, in a brave and forthright manner.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the themes of loyalty, friendship, and doing what is right, even if it means breaking an oath. How does Tom's relationship to Huck change from one of hero-worship to real friendship? Huck is clearly wary of the townspeople, and families might want to talk about how his character develops during this movie. Tom is portrayed as a daring and intelligent boy, yet there are also example of times he is headstrong and manipulative those around him. Families might discuss which characteristics of Tom, Huck, Aunt Polly, the Widow Douglas, and Becky they admire and which they see in themselves.
- In theaters: December 22, 1995
- On DVD or streaming: March 2, 2004
- Cast: Brad Renfro, Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Rachael Leigh Cook
- Director: Peter Hewitt
- Studio: Walt Disney Pictures
- Genre: Action/Adventure
- Topics: Adventures, Book Characters, Friendship
- Run time: 97 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: some villainous acts and mild language
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