A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Tom Sawyer & Huckleberry Finn (2014) is a live-action reimagining of Mark Twain's classic novel. After witnessing a murder in the town graveyard one late night, young teens Tom and Huck embark on a series of adventures and misadventures as they protect themselves from the killer, find a buried treasure, and fall in love (well, one of them does). Suspense and violence accompany the intrepid boys' odyssey: a shooting, a stabbing, chases, narrow escapes, and more. Though the boys are fearless, dishonest mischief-makers at the onset, they learn important lessons about integrity, responsibility, and justice. There is some adult drinking and drunkenness, and Huck smokes a corncob pipe. Filmmakers have made an effort to avoid controversy by leaving out racial epithets found in Twain's spirited novel. There is mild profanity ("hell" and "damn").
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
Val Kilmer as Mark Twain spins his classic 1876 tale to two young kids eager to hear about the legendary TOM SAWYER & HUCKLEBERRY FINN and learn about the wondrousness of the Mississippi River. Orphan Tom (Joel Courtney in a natural, warmhearted performance) sneaks out one night with Huck, his best friend and co-troublemaker. Testing their courage at the town's dark cemetery, the boys are witness to a cruel murder, narrowly escape detection, and vow never to reveal what they've seen. Their promise to one another is tested when the boys find out that the deadly Injun Joe has blamed the killing on an innocent man. Before the boys can make things right, a series of events finds them on the trail of buried treasure and in increasing danger from the villainous Joe. It's a wild ride with Tom and Huck.
Is it any good?
Writer-director Jo Kastner is earnest in his efforts to bring this classic to life. The narration by Val Kilmer as Mark Twain adds heart and insight to the story. Many of the book's iconic moments have been retained: whitewashing Aunt Polly's fence, Tom attending his own funeral, his budding romance with Becky Thatcher. The Mississippi River is captured as the lifeblood of the surrounding country. Unfortunately, too many aspects of the production are amateurish and clumsy. With the exception of Kilmer, most of the adult actors are weak and stilted. Though the river shots evoke Twain's vision, other sets and action pieces reveal the film's budgetary restraints. Twain's book is deserving of a great movie; sadly, this one doesn't fill the bill.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the pact between Tom and Huck when they swear not to tell what they've seen. What reasons did they have for making the agreement? What reasons did Tom have for breaking it? Did you agree with his decision?
Some have been critical of this story because Injun Joe, a Native American character, is depicted as evil; others are more accepting of the story and its potential racism because the tale was written in 1876 when the U.S. was different. What is your opinion? Do standards and ethics change over time? Can racism ever be thought of as acceptable because it was a product of a particular time and place?
Read Mark Twain's classic The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Do you think the filmmakers captured the spirit and intent of the original? Why, or why not?
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