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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Waiting for Anya is an adaptation of Michael Morpurgo's same-named children's novel about a Nazi-occupied French village in World War II. Based on a true story, it depicts the heroism of teen Jo (Noah Schnapp) -- and eventually his entire village -- in transporting Jewish children to safety under the Nazis' noses. The peril/sense of danger is strong, and violence is brief but shocking. A key sympathetic character is shot and killed, hunters shoot an animal, and a drunk man strikes a teen. While the movie's themes and content are mature, the material is handled delicately, and characters demonstrate courage, compassion, integrity, and teamwork. Ultimately the message is about broadening your perspective to see that a person is more than a label. We see this happen through the two men Jo becomes friendly with: Benjamin, a Jewish dad (Frederick Schmidt) who's trying to find his daughter, and a Nazi Korporal (Thomas Kretschmann) who misses his daughter back home and doubts the integrity of his mission. Substance use is historically accurate: Soldiers and adults smoke, drink, and hang out at the local tavern.
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What's the story?
In WAITING FOR ANYA, it's 1942, and World War II comes to a remote village in the French countryside. Jo (Noah Schnapp), a teen shepherd, discovers a Jewish man hiding in the mountains and learns of a small operation to smuggle Jewish children to safety in Spain. When the Nazis occupy his community, Jo gets involved to save the kids' lives, even if that means risking his own.
Is it any good?
With this story, writer-director Ben Cookson aims to find a gentle way to introduce preteens to understanding the atrocities of World War II. In that way, it's similar to The Sound of Music. But the characters in Waiting for Anya aren't affluent Austrians singing happy songs. Rather, they're French villagers who find themselves in the middle of the Nazis' Jewish genocide due to their location as the last stop on the escape route to Spain. Two Nazi officers lead the operation: the cruel and terrible Lieutenant (Tómas Lemarquis) and the friendly and kind Korporal (Thomas Kretschmann). It's jarring to see a Nazi portrayed positively, but the point is to see the humanity in our enemies. Nazis rarely fall into that territory, and for good reason, but here we see that the Korporal is an independent thinker who isn't in goose step with the Fuhrer's goals.
Sticking closely to Michael Morpurgo's 1990 children's novel from which it's adapted, Waiting for Anya is a hero's story told from a kid's perspective. Jo doesn't have a stake in the war: He's not Jewish or German, so in theory he just has to wait it out. But when he learns that the mysterious, kindhearted man he met in the woods (Frederick Schmidt) and the village's curmudgeon (Anjelica Huston) are secretly whisking children to safety, he's compelled to get involved. The story is heartbreakingly earnest. But it's also a portrait of courage that tweens can connect with, since it's about a kid doing everything in his power to save other kids' lives. Still, even when the efforts are victorious, there's no sweet "Goodbye, Farewell." Rather, there are several individual upsetting tragedies that help young viewers understand that in war, even when you win, you lose.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about what preteens and teens know about the Holocaust. What upset them in Waiting for Anya? Why?
Ask your kids whether they think people can be both good and evil at the same time. Then you can talk about how the Holocaust was kept secret. Was it actually hidden, or did people know and simply look the other way?
How does watching a historical story told from a kid's perspective affect your enjoyment of it? When you realize you're watching a true story, does it change the impact the movie makes on you? Is there any inspiration you can find in Jo's heroism that you could use in your daily life, when the stakes aren't life or death?
How do Jo, Benjamin, Madame Horcada, and Grandpère demonstrate courage, compassion, teamwork, and integrity? Why are these important character strengths? Do any other characters in this movie show these qualities? What about the Korporal? In what ways does his complicated character demonstrate empathy? In what ways is he reprehensible?
- In theaters: February 7, 2020
- On DVD or streaming: March 10, 2020
- Cast: Anjelica Huston, Noah Schnapp, Jean Reno
- Director: Ben Cookson
- Studio: Vertical Entertainment
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Book Characters, Great Boy Role Models, History
- Character strengths: Compassion, Courage, Integrity, Teamwork
- Run time: 109 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Last updated: September 1, 2021
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