...shining light on the media, one review at a time
In a time when it seems like family-friendly movies are a dying art, Race to Witch Mountain, the remake of an old Disney classic, emerges as not only better than the original Escape to Witch Mountain, but as a rare gem that delivers clean entertainment, adventure, humor, and a positive message—everything a family movie should.
Jack Bruno, an ex-con, Las Vegas taxi driver has been working on turning his life around. But he has no idea of the changes in store when two kids appear in the back seat of his cab. While trying to outrun multiple pursuers, Jack discovers that this brother and sister, Seth and Sarah, are not a normal fare. Though it takes much persuasion and evidence to convince the skeptical Jack, Seth and Sarah eventually prove to him that they are not from the planet Earth. That’s right—they’re aliens.
If an encounter with aliens was not enough to shake up Jack’s life, these particular aliens are on a mission to save both their planet and Earth. More than one person stands in their way, however, and much excitement ensues as the kids and Jack try to evade an assassin from the alien planet and hostile government officials who wish to capture and dissect Seth and Sarah.
Though the premise might be a stretch, director Andy Fickman does an excellent job of grounding the film in realism wherever possible. The special effects are impressive and most scenes take place in real locations, with equally true-to-life characters that enable the fantastic to blend with the mundane. Showing his surprising talent for comedy, Dwayne Johnson as Jack anchors the film with a performance that is endearing and hilarious. In particular, he provides a perfect foil for the surreal elements by being comically unimpressed by the alien kids’ special powers. In addition, AnnaSophia Robb, who plays Sarah, brings an emotional authenticity to her role that sells every moment of her scenes.
More remarkable than the quality of filmmaking and acting, however, are the family-friendly elements that make this movie a joy to watch. The “witch” in the title has nothing to do with sorcery, but is only the name of a mountain that is used for a government compound. Unlike some fantasy films, which dip into witchcraft and the like, this film stays rooted in the sci-fi world of possibilities, which offers fewer problems for Christian viewers.
In addition, positive values are encouraged throughout this film in subtle ways. Though he has a past criminal record, Jack Bruno has clearly reformed and resists being bullied back into his former ways. He does do some combat moves (isn’t that required of Johnson, “The Rock”?), but only in defense of himself or others.
Jack’s admirable willingness to protect and help others, at cost to himself, is what makes him a suitable hero for this film and for children in the audience. Doctor Alex Friedman, a woman scientist who eventually joins in the alien kids’ mission also shows the same tenacity to see that the innocent are protected and life is preserved. These positive traits, as well as compassion, loyalty, courage, and responsibility are encouraged throughout the movie.
To the filmmakers’ credit, the violence in this film is kept to a minimal level. Though there are enough dangers and frightening elements to scare very young children, the lack of gore and invisible body count allows for shooting and explosions aplenty, without desensitizing viewers to senseless violence.
Perhaps most shocking and pleasing of all is the absence of offensive language in Race. The film is even miraculously unsullied by the usual “accepted” misuse of God’s name and other common mild obscenities.
Though the worldviews of the primary characters in Race leave much to be desired, there are no philosophies expounded consistently throughout the film of which parents’ need be wary. Even Dr. Friedman’s unexpected treatise on the idea of random chance turns into the presentation of a theory that can only result in the existence of God. Alex calls this “science,” rather than even “fate,” but she is clear that she believes the events that are taking place in the film point to a “predetermined” order.
[SPOILER WARNING] The most questionable moment in the film comes at the end, when Jack Bruno intentionally lets go of the assassin’s hand, after the creature fell while trying to kill Jack and grabbed Jack’s hand on his way down. While Jack’s expression when he lets go of the assassin and lets him drop is unfortunately taunting, his action is still arguably self-defense (and in defense of his friends). We are told that this alien assassin, who is clearly not human (he is described in animal-like terms and may even be closer to a machine), is bred to complete his mission to kill Seth and Sarah. That being the case, even if Jack were to pull the assassin to safety, he would still either have to kill or be killed by the assassin, and Seth and Sarah might be killed in the process.
As with any non-Christian film, the imaginative elements and philosophical ideas in Race may take some thought to unpack how they should be viewed from a Christian perspective. But that’s what the best family films do—promote healthy discussion that adds to the value of the entertainment. And entertaining this film most definitely is. With its fun blend of positive values, excitement, and comedy—unblemished by unnecessary junk—this film will leave viewers happy and satisfied. That is, except for the one burning question that I was left with—why isn’t every family movie like this one?
Check out these similar titles:
The Moon-Spinners (Disney, 1964)
Spy Kids (Dimension Films, 2001)
The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising (Walden Media, 2007)