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You Can Tutu
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that You Can Tutu targets an audience of young girls who dream of being ballerinas twirling through life. The movie takes a simplistic approach to attracting those girls, drawing stark lines dividing good from bad, bullies from victims, and creatives from drones. As befitting a movie celebrating the grace and poise of ballet, all the "baddies" are eventually persuaded to cross over into the good by the end of the film. The story features a single dad raising his daughter alone and ballet moms who value appearances and boast-worthy achievement seemingly above all else. Several girls mock Tutu's name and clothes. White moms openly denigrate the one Hispanic ballet mom in the group, complaining that the empanadas she brings to snack on smell bad.
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What's the story?
In YOU CAN TUTU, Tutu (Lily O'Regan) is the nickname for 11-year-old Tallulah, a ballet dancer who has moved to a new neighborhood with her single dad (Stuart Manning), Dan, causing upheaval in their lives. She's immediately bullied at her new school, and the same girls also make her miserable at her new ballet school. Tutu's multicolored leotard and sideways ponytail sets her apart from all the pink-clad, done-up students, and they mock her difference. The ballet school's headmistress, Madame Tabitha (Amanda Holt), disdains and punishes Tutu's supposed originality, banishing her to remedial classes and a small role in an important upcoming competition. All the while the movie suggests that Tutu is really the best dancer there without giving any clues as to why that might be. Tabitha's teaching underling, Kat (Ali Bastian), is sympathetic to Tutu's differences and takes a shine to her dad as well, signaling immediately that romance for that pair is assured. At the first competition, Tutu goes into a trance and diverges from the choreography. The school takes first place nevertheless and heads to the larger national competition. This time, injury and other events take several dancers out of the running, leaving Tutu's school with only a trio to perform at the nationals. For some reason, Tabitha becomes sympathetic to Tutu and she's given a central role in the performance. So is Rosily (Zahra Hassan Malik), who up to this point has been disdained as the school's least graceful and promising student. Even the bullies are nice by the end of the movie.
Is it any good?
This movie targets young girls, whose taste and discernment won't rule them out as eager consumers of this junky, low-budget piece of pink-encrusted fluff. You Can Tutu feels so generic, so unoriginal, so much a rip-off of other, better, stories that one can imagine it being produced, written, or directed by some creatively-bankrupt soul looking to A) make some -- really any -- kind of movie and B) showcase the adorable young dancer they happened to glimpse next door. "You just watch, I'll make you a star, kid!" The movie is so banal and predictable that in the rare moments in which something lifelike happens, you have to assume it is by accident.
And it feels downright irresponsible to ignore the body image issues and eating disorders that are rampant among young girl dancers. Clichés form the story's building blocks. A new kid and her single dad move to a different London neighborhood, requiring that the girl start at a new school full of bullies and a new ballet school where the same girls mock her supposed originality, a trait that is somehow certified by the fact that she wears multicolored leotards. The school's regimental headmistress is a villain straight out of central casting. All but one of the ballet moms of Tutu's horrid classmates are boastful and superficial, living through their children and eyeing the single dad in their midst like a tasty morsel to be plucked up and swallowed whole. Imagine all of that performed by mostly inept actors saying lines badly. The film's central premise is shaky, as we are expected to admire Tutu because she doesn't like to stick to the choreography set by the headmistress. This is odd; while there's lots of room for creativity in different kinds of dance, ballet is a choreographer's art and dancers are expected to use their gifts to interpret their prescribed steps, not to improvise during performances. At least Lily O'Regan is a charming presence, and the dance performances at the end are lovely.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the idea in You Can Tutu that a refusal to follow choreography makes a dancer better than those who agree to follow it. What is the difference between a creative artist and an interpretive artist? Is one better than the other?
Why do you think the girls at the ballet school are mean to Tutu when she first arrives? Do you think her talent threatens them, or do you think they just don't like to welcome strangers?
Why are there so many movies about ballet and dance? What's the appeal?
For kids who love dance
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