Running Time: 1 hr. 45 minutes
Release Date: April 8th, 2011
MPAA Rating: PG for an intense accident sequence and some thematic material.
Audience: Elementary School (5-10) and up
Soul Surfer is a 2011 drama directed by Sean McNamara and based on the true story on the life of Bethany Hamilton. McNamara is mostly known for his work on Disney and other films targeting the pre-teen market. Soul Surfer is his debut into movies for a mainstream American audience.
The movie starts with a montage from the childhood of Bethany Hamilton (AnnaSophia Robb), spending time with her friends and family. The scenes show an idyllic childhood with a beautiful family living in one of the most picturesque locations in the United States. Bethany has a lot of support from her Father, Tom Hamilton (Dennis Quaid) and Mother, Cheri Hamilton (Helen Hunt). She also gets advice and guidance from a youth counselor (Carrie Underwood). Her older brothers are also surfers and this no doubt helped her grow up with such great surfing abilities. Scenes of her playing the Ukulele with her childhood best friend almost seem cliché, but more on that later.
The breathtaking cinematography which is almost expected in such a location does not disappoint. The story includes the family going to church and a strong foundation of faith. This is refreshing to see in American cinema today. The producers wanted to remove references to the Bible to make it more appealing to a worldwide audience. However, the scriptures and biblical sources really made the movie. If anything, it would have been nice to see more of it. It feels like it was watered down to some degree.
AnnaSophia Robb worked out to get into the role and actually had surfing lessons from Bethany. She was about 16 during the filming of the movie when in real life Bethany was only 13 when the accident happened. However, AnnaSophia is only 5′ 2″, so it’s easy to picture her as a bit younger. If you see the two of them standing together Bethany towers over AnnaSophia because she is 5′ 10″ tall. You may recognize AnnaSophia from her role as the bubble gum chewing Violet in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or from her roles in Because of Winn-Dixie or Race to Witch Mountain. Her acting has matured and she expresses herself convincingly as a teen who is trying to find her way in life.
Dennis Quaid is cast wonderfully as Tom Hamilton. He is the epitome of a Father who is involved and cares for his child. His advice helps her to be strong. He helps her relearn how to surf with one arm and he gives her tournament winning tips on the sport. Helen Hunt has a more limited role, but she performs well as the Mother who supports her daughter, no matter what. She is tough when she needs to be, but soft enough to show the pain she feels for her daughter. Carrie Underwood makes her acting debut in a role that didn’t require much heavy lifting. She was fine as a youth leader that encourages Bethany to reach outside herself.
Apparently there was a lot of CGI used to make AnnaSophia’s arm disappear. The effects house needed to scrub it out of about 450 shots from different angles. The way they made her arm disappear is a variation of what they do with news anchors and a green screen. Normally, the person is in front of a green screen and the background is filled in behind the actor or actress. In this case AnnaSophia wore a green sleeve on her arm. The sleeve was bound tight around her upper arm, so it made the edge of her arm rounded. This way it was easier to have the special effects studio fill in the space where the arm was shown. The visual effect of Bethany’s amputated arm was quite good.
The “strength of human character” aspect of the movie is very compelling. We are proud of her accomplishments and it makes us feel like we should be able to go out and do anything we want to do. Make sure to stay for the credits at the end. The credits are one of the best things about the movie because they show real pictures of Bethany as a child with her family. They actually have video of her playing the Ukulele with her best friend as a child (wow!). They also show pictures of her surfing before and after the accident.
This movie has a lot of surfing and bikinis. There is one scene of violence which is central to the movie, but it is handled well without too much graphic detail. There is virtually no profanity or sexual content.
Scale = Ages 0-18 | Radar Chart Explanation
Soul Surfer is a feel good drama which reaffirms the fact that you cannot control life or what happens to you, but you can control the way you respond. AnnaSophia Robb surfs and overcomes obstacles in this true story based on the life of Bethany Hamilton. Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt give admirable supportive performances. There are no big surprises, but the story is told with heart and passion. A great story combined with good acting makes this family movie a ride that shouldn’t be missed.Soul Surfer,
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