War of the Buttons

Movie review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
War of the Buttons Movie Poster Image
WWII drama is overly cute but has worthy lessons for tweens.
  • PG-13
  • 2012
  • 100 minutes

Parents say

No reviews yetAdd your rating

Kids say

No reviews yetAdd your rating

Did this review miss something on diversity?

Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive, diverse representations in books, TV shows, and movies. Want to help us help them? Suggest a diversity update

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

On the one hand, War of the Buttons promotes tolerance and teamwork, but on the other, it advocates for war. In the end, the boys learn that having a mutual enemy (in this case, the collaborators) is a point of commonality -- and they help each other despite many weeks of discord. Lebrac also discovers the joy of reading -- as long it has to do with battle strategies -- and Violette realizes that there's more to "country" folk than she previously thought. Lebrac also finds out that people he thought were cowards are actually working for the Resistance.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Simone hides a Jewish girl despite the penalty for doing so. An entire town comes together to give Simone and Violette a chance to escape. Lebrac learns about the value of reading and tells Violette it doesn't matter that she's Jewish, he likes her just the same. And Violette decides she doesn't care whether Lebrac is a country boy, she likes him just the same.


The "war" between the neighboring factions of boys gets pretty brutal -- kids fight each other with sticks and slingshots and definitely get in one another's faces, leaving bruises. A father is known for giving his son the belt. A clique of friends sets fire to their nemeses' clubhouse. A boy is hurt until he gives up his friends' location and is later beaten by his friends for betraying them. A Jewish family is dragged away menacingly; in another scene, a Frenchman goes off looking for a Jewish girl in hiding.


Young Lebrac and Violette have a sweet embrace and kiss on the cheeks before they're separated. Adult characters share a passionate kiss. Men in a bar make crude comments about Simone's reputation for being promiscuous. Lebrac and his friends joke about what it takes to get a girl to like them.


Although the movie is spoken in French, there are several subtitled swear words, including "f--k," "s--t," and insults like "limp dick," "little brats," "big numbskulls," "picky asses," "bastards," "a--holes," and "coward."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

All of the adults drink (wine or hard liquor), and most smoke cigarettes, both of which are accurate for the movie's time period/setting.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that War of the Buttons is an adaptation of a famous French novel about a group of neighboring cliques of boys who engage in a full-scale "war" against one another (success is measured by how many buttons they steal from their enemies). The action is set during World War II -- specifically, the French Occupation -- and includes some moments of cruelty and violence, like when a Jewish family is dragged away from their home by collaborator police officers and when a group of kids lights their nemeses' wooden clubhouse aflame. Kids also get into fistfights with each other and even take turns hitting a "traitor." On the other hand, the kids learn their lesson and work together to save a Jewish teen hidden among them. Young characters and adults both display affection (kissing); there's some subtitled swearing, including "f--k" and "s--t." Adults drink and smoke.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say

There aren't any reviews yet. Be the first to review this title.

There aren't any reviews yet. Be the first to review this title.

What's the story?

During Germany's occupation of France in World War II, the boys of neighboring country towns engage in a play war with each other. The young leader of the pack, Lebrac (Jean Texier), starts reading books about famous wars in order to effectively defeat the other boys in a war that's measured by how many buttons and laces they steal from their enemies. Complicating the "war" is Violette (Ilona Bachelier), a beautiful young Jewish girl who's pretending to be the goddaughter of the village seamstress, Simone (Laetitia Casta). Violette and Lebrac strike up a sweet friendship that's threatened when a vindictive Vichy cop starts rounding up Jewish and other "suspicious" residents.

Is it any good?

Texier is particularly good playing the charismatic leader who falls for the brainy and beautiful (and secretly Jewish) new girl. WAR OF THE BUTTONS is the latest adaptation of Louis Pergaud's famous 1912 French novel -- this time set during World War II to add in themes of the Resistance, defiance, and tolerance. As Lebrac and his acolytes fight the neighboring clique, their lives are impacted by the appearance of the mysterious Violette in their one-room school.  

As for the adults in the story, there's a predictable romance between schoolteacher Paul (Patrick Dempsey lookalike Guillaume Canet) and the gorgeous Simone, who were together before she left for -- and returned from -- Paris. Paul is one of several characters in the movie who aren't what they seem. Lebrac might seem like a dim bulb, but he's a brilliant strategist; his father looks like a cowardly tyrant, but he's actually braver than Lebrac could ever imagine. Ultimately, the boys' war ends when they realize there's a bigger enemy than each other, and even young viewers will realize how disturbingly easy it is to become merciless under the banner of war. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about War of the Buttons' messages. How does it depict war/conflict? Are there other means of resolving issues?

  • How did the kids' war mirror the issues and themes of WWII? What does Violette mean when she says Lebrac is acting like a Nazi?

  • Some critics have said that War of the Buttons glosses over some of the grittier subject matter of the war, deportations, and a girl in hiding far from her family. Do you agree? Does that matter for this story?

  • What do Lebrac and Violette teach each other about tolerance and friendship?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love dramas

Themes & Topics

Browse titles with similar subject matter.

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.

See how we rate

Streaming options powered by JustWatch

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

Our ratings are based on child development best practices. We display the minimum age for which content is developmentally appropriate. The star rating reflects overall quality.

Learn how we rate