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Film Mom: How Hollywood Helps with the Homework

The Film Mom is a weekly column about family entertainment for parents with kids (and kids with parents) by Tara McNamara, the editor and founder of

When it comes to school, I’m not sure if kids today are getting a better education, but they’ve definitely got it a lot easier.  They have laptops, the Internet and backpacks on wheels. We had typewriters, microfiche and a backache. And now, Hollywood is even helping to make the coursework easier.

A slew of books off the literary canon are hitting the multiplex in A-list glory, making the required reading list a piece of cake. Les Miserables opens Christmas Day; what I wouldn’t have given to have assistance slogging through the Victor Hugo novel when I was 16. I remember the story of Jean Valjean (which seemed like a bizarrely redundant name to name a character) as a tough read, although to be fair, I had to read it for French class, a language in which I only mastered the word "baguette." But to have Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried and Hugh Jackman bring those formidable chapters to life is like finding out your final will be an open book test.

Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina is in theaters now starring Keira Knightley as the married woman who learns the consequence of prioritizing passion over responsibility and commitment. It’s rated R for steamy art house sex (though you don’t actually see anything), and will undoubtedly serve as big-budget Cliffs Notes for intimidated older students trying to avoid turning the pages of the Russian classic.

Of course, we had movie adaptations of classics to watch in class when I was in high school. But interpreting Shakespeare from a 1968 film version of Romeo and Juliet was no more interesting to a class full of teens wearing Whitesnake shirts and Madonna scrunchies than seeing it as originally performed by a bunch of men with bad teeth at The Globe. Kids of 2013 are getting a snappier version starring Hailee Steinfeld, Gossip Girl 's Ed Westwick and  Douglas Booth, a young Brit who may very well be (dare I say it) prettier than Robert Pattinson.

Next year will also see movies made from Charles Dickens’ frequently assigned novel Great Expectations (starring Ralph Fiennes and Helena Bonham Carter) and Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn (with Disney Channel’s Jake T. Austin and Super 8’s Joel Courtney). But after all of this, I predict the movie most shown in classrooms for years to come will be the 3D version of The Great Gatsby starring Leonardo DiCaprio, which opens in summer. Hopefully Baz Luhrmann will make the greater depths of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s all-American novel more apparent than the 1974 Robert Redford starrer that “assisted” me in learning the material. I still remember being stunned when the test asked me to explain the symbolism behind East Egg and West Egg – my answer had something to do with “being chicken.”

Here are three films you can see with your family this weekend:

 Rise of the Guardians. Jack Frost joins Santa, the Easter Bunny and other magical holiday creatures to protect children from the Boogeyman. The mechanism is dark but it’s a fantastic lesson on how kids can cope with fear.




 Life of Pi. My tween pleaded with me to not "make her" attend this movie about a boy stranded on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger. During the realistic shipwreck scene, she whispered, “Why did you take me to see this?” Two hours and five minutes later, she proclaimed Life of Pi the most beautiful movie ever.




 Wreck-It Ralph. It’s Toy Story with video games, and like Toy Story 3, it’s unpredictable and deeply moving.




To find out if kids like these films, go to, where all kids are movie critics.

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