BodEquip Ministries - Equipping the Body of Christ to Live Abundantly.

Movie Review: Summer of the Monkeys

Quick Plot Summary: A 12-year-old boy circa 100-years-ago "grows up" during a summer where he tries to catch some circus monkeys that escaped from a train wreck.

Rating: Great
Suggested Ages: 9+

This movie is an "under the radar" movie that I found to be an entertaining and meaningful family movie. In the final analysis, it's relatively neutral as far as really building/supporting your faith as a Christian, but there are numerous opportunities for good follow-up discussion that can increase its value in this arena (ideas on this at the end). Plus I have a soft-spot for good "under the radar" movies. :)

This movie is based (rather loosely) on a book and having read the book, I must say that I GREATLY prefer the movie (I don't think I've ever had this experience before!) - the book was much more concerning to me as a Christian than the movie.

In addition to generally being an entertaining, fun movie (with NO bad language!), it also has some great positive lessons: being selfless/caring for others - especially your family, finding "middle ground" in disagreements, showing that poor life choices have consequences, etc.

There are several releases of this movie including one by Disney, but the BEST in my opinion is the "Feature Films for Families" version as it is edited to make it even more family friendly by removing a little "brash" talk, a "minor" swear word, and some images that might be disturbing for younger children.

There are also some Christian/religious connotations in this film - though not necessarily overly positive - I would overall probably call them "neutral". In the book that the movie is based on, there is a great emphasis on a character "The Old Man of the Mountains" as well as a magic fairy ring, which grants magical wishes. Though both have a "tie-in" with God in the book, the Christianity in the book is a liberal, superstitious, "religious", "wishy-washy" Christianity that I don't like one bit. In the movie, while they kept the references to both (I actually somewhat wish they didn't), they're much toned-down and "The Old Man of the Mountains" is clearly stated to be God watching out for the animals, and the "magic fairy ring" isn't described as such and only one character gets in it and she is seemingly shown to be praying rather than just "making a wish". While it still comes across a little "odd" in the movie, it's not particularly problematic.

The mother in the movie is shown to be a Bible-reading/teaching stalwart, which was nice to see (though I wish the father would have done so also) but she also comes across as a bit harsh (to her son and possibly to children watching who will be identifying more with the son) and her son doesn't seem interested in the Bible so it's kind of a mixed-message. One scene in particular bothered me a tiny bit. There's a scene during a big storm where the mother is reading Psalm 23 from her Bible to the family, which is nice, but just as she's talking about the peace of the Lord, we see all the windows being blown out, etc. I'm sure the filmmakers likely intended this to show that the Bible was comforting to the family at this time, but this scene could also potentially be seen to be sending a message like "See what reading the Bible and believing in God gets you? A bunch of broken stuff that will need to be repaired and cost you money." It kind of came across a bit that way. On the other hand, they all made it safely through the storm (but, on the other hand, another character didn't...)

There is a death that occurs in this movie of an old moonshiner which proves to be another "growing up" experience for the boy in the story. In the release of the movie I have (Feature Films for Families version as opposed to the Disney one), this death is just implied by seeing an obviously dead hand, whereas in the Disney release more shots of the body itself are shown which may be disturbing for some children.

The film opens with the boy stealing something and there's a bit of disobedience and seeming lying by the boy to his parents, which is concerning, but I personally didn't see it as anything to get too "bent out of shape" over in the context of the entire story which is a "growing up" story of sorts, though some follow-up discussion may be good with any children seeing this since the boy isn't ever really shown to be "sorry" for any of this earlier behavior (though at the end of the movie he does give back something that didn't belong to him showing that he had "grown").

Anyway, in the final analysis, this movie has an assumption of God/Christian worldview, but won't leave you built-up in your faith nearly as much as it will just leave you feeling good. There are, however, numerous opportunities for family discussion after viewing this movie that can really be of help. Discussion topics could be: lying, the problems of stealing, running away (from your problems) vs. trying to work them out, love for family, being selfless vs. selfish, poor choices (drinking - i.e. what happened to the old moonshiner - what did he "lose" by his poor choice), bullying, the role of prayer in our lives (i.e. talking about whether God answers prayer - using the "white ring" that the girl got in where she prayed as an example - talking about whether we need a special "white ring" or can just talk to God anywhere we want, etc.), how God's Word can comfort us when we're facing hard times (i.e. like how they read the Bible during the storm), talking about whether God cares about animals, etc. There's all sorts of good posibilities for follow-up discussion that can really make the "net result" of this movie a real strong positive.

Reviewed by Christopher Long,
BodEquip Ministries

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