Day four at theBentonville Film Festivalwas all about journeys, care of protagonists heading out on an adventure and, you guessed it, learning something along the way. Yet, for that thematic through-line, the fourth day of the newbie festival provided the greatest breadth of features yet, a testament to the depth of films that adhere to the fest’s mission to “champion women and diversity in film.” Let’s take a trip.
Watching kids films without kids in the audience is tough business. Sure, if something is charming or fun or well made, it should speak for itself, but if it’s aimed at the younger set and they’re not around to respond to what’s on the screen, it can be difficult for a crusty old adult to determine the appeal level of a film.Will the kids like this?, you might wonder, suddenly trying to picture the kids you know, realizing most of them are babies or toddlers who are only interested inFrozen(they all loveFrozen, all of them).Is this movie likeFrozen?, you will think.There are no princesses here, or even any ice.
Fortunately, Friday’s screening ofChristopher N. Rowley’sMolly Moonwas packed with happy kids, and although it’s not likeFrozen, it is a bit likeHarry Potter(kids also loveHarry Potter,says this adult who also lovesHarry Potter). Based onGeorgia Byng’s book of the same name,Molly Moonintroduces us to another plucky orphan, the eponymous Molly Moon (duh, as the kids would say), who lives in a small English orphanage run by, as tradition dictates, a pretty horrible headmistress. Molly’s (Raffey Cassidy) life isn’t all bad, however, and she’s got a fizzy spirit to keep her afloat, along with her best pal Rocky (Jadon Carnelly Morris) and at least one nice orphanage employee (Emily Watson).Molly Moon’s plot is a bit scattershot, but it’s also fast-moving and snappy, and even if adventures unfold too swiftly to have much connective tissue, it’s so good-natured and appropriately silly that it’s easy to forgive (the kids loved it, okay?).
Molly is a voracious reader, and when her frequent sojourns to the town library put her in the path of a mysterious book about hypnotism (and a crazy thief who wants to use the book for his own nefarious needs, amusingly played byDominic Monaghan), she discovers she has a true talent for the art. Although the returns on Molly’s newfound skill are swift – she convinces that mean old headmaster to be nice, gets the cook to start preparing delicious meals, and even makes a furry friend out of nasty pug – there are unexpected consequences. After Rocky is adopted away to a maybe-nice (maybe) family in London, Molly embarks on a quest to get him back.
Although that may sound like adventure enough – a pre-teen hypnotist, running amok in London, trailed by an angry thief (whose mother is played byJoan Collinsof all people) – the film takes a snappy left turn into strange territory. Molly soon becomes a major pop star (yes, thanks to they hypnotism), and while her new fame seems like a wonderful gift, it soon forces her to reconsider what’s really important in life. Packed with lessons and plenty of fun to boot,Molly Moonis a genuinely sweet family film, with enough jokes to keep the kids and adults laughing. One note, though: more pug!
Kate is an entertainment and culture writer and editor living in New York City. She is also a contributing writer for VanityFair.com, Cosmopolitan.com, RollingStone.com, Vulture, MTV.com, Details.com, The Dissolve, Screen Crush, New York Daily News, Mental Floss, and amNY. Her previous work can also be found at MSN Movies, Boxoffice Magazine, and Film.com. She lives her life like a French movie, Steve.