Akeelah and the Bee


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A couple of weeks back in my review of Monster House, I lamented the state of live-action family fare.  The entire genre has been relegated to bottom-feeding and empty artificial movies like Zoom and The Shaggy Dog remake… films devoid of any real meaning, any real heart, and any real reason for a family to actually walk in and sit through one of them.

At least, that’s what it seemed like last week.  Last week, if you would have asked me about the state of live-action family movies, I would have said that they were on life support with Dr. Kevorkian coming down the hallway with his famous suicide machine.  After watching Akeelah and the Bee, I still think it’s a genre in trouble, but at least now there’s hope of a recovery.

So, how exactly does a movie about spelling words end up so good and so enthralling?  Call it a little heart mixed with an excellent child star who carries the entire movie.  Akeelah and the Bee wouldn’t have been nearly as successful without cute-as-a-button Keke Palmer in the starring role and everyone involved in this movie and everyone who has sat through and enjoyed this movie owes this little girl a debt of gratitude.  Not since The 6th Sense has a movie relied so heavily on a child star and little Keke pulls it off perfectly.

Keke, as I’m sure you’ve figured out now, plays Akeelah, an eleven-year-old spelling prodigy from a ghetto school who hides her academic abilities for fear of being tormented by her fellow classmates however, upon learning of the national spelling bee and being encouraged to enter by her principal, played by Booger from Revenge of the Nerds, she becomes intrigued with the concept so much so that the insolent little girl actually agrees to be coached by a professor, Lawrence Fishburne, who can at best be described as gruff and belligerent.

You can see the twists and turns in Akeelah and the Bee coming from a mile away and yet, this is still a heartwarming movie about potential and the will to achieve.  Sure, you might gawk at the schmaltz of the little African American girl from the ghetto making good or even take offense at the stereotyped Asians in this movie.  Personally, I was a little shocked at the flagrant, unnecessary, and jarring use of the word “shit” in a scene.  It’s vanilla, vanilla, vanilla, and then all of the sudden there’s the s-bomb!  I mean, why?  What the heck?  Did they just not want a G?  What’s going on here?

Still, for the message it wants to send it does an excellent job and is probably one of – if not the best – family movie I’ve seen all year.

It’s inspiring and cheerful, dramatic and sad, and – yes – even a little hokey.  Doesn’t matter, though, because in a movie like this a little hokey doesn’t do a darn bit of harm.

The perfect family movie?  Not by a long shot…  But it’s been the best I’ve seen in a while.

We’re not afraid of failing, what we’re afraid of is succeeding.  It’s a message that should get out more and thanks to Akeelah and the Bee perhaps it will.

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About the author

Jason Donner

Jason Donner devoured the universe and you are all living inside him.