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RUNNING TIME: 112 minutes
• Behind the scenes featurette
• "Two Peas in a Pod" featurette
• "Inside the Mind of Akeelah" featurette
• "All my Girlz" music video
• Deleted scenes
"It’s Stand and Deliver meets Spellbound!"
Laurence Fishburne, Angela Bassett, and little
Akeelah Anderson (Palmer) comes from one of the
worst schools in the LA area. The students rarely attend classes. The teachers
struggle to make themselves care. The district can’t afford to buy doors for
their bathroom stalls. Akeelah rises out of these hardships on the strength of
her uncanny memory for spelling. As she rises through the competitions on her
way to the national spelling bee, with her coach (Fishburne) at her side, she
becomes an inspiration to everyone around her — including herself.
Just a shout out to one of the greatest books ever written.
That Scrabble guide got me through a lot of lonely nights.
I grew up a geek. (I didn’t grow very far.) I
didn’t participate in a lot of sports during high school. Trying to get good
grades was enough of a challenge for me. So, I get predictably whiny whenever
the local district cuts funding to the arts or academics in order to boost the
athletics program. From time to time, I revert all the way to childhood, like
so: "Why do the jocks get all the breaks? Why do they make so many movies
about how sports are so great? Why can’t I lift this bag of Cheetos to my
There are a few good, inspiration, family films
that hold academic excellence up as the goal, but more frequently we get
stories like Rudy, Remember the Titans, Coach
Carter, or whatever football movie is currently playing at the cinema. Dead
Poets Society is a decent example of academically-oriented inspiration;
however, it does feature a friendly little suicide and is something of a morale
dampener for younger children. Not exactly something you’d want to show to get
your rugrats involved in the joy of learning, unless you want them standing on
Enter Akeelah and the Bee, a fine and
quiet little story that succeeds in its generalities more than its specifics,
and also manages to add a little substance into a genre void. Its plot is as
derivative as they come, snatching elements from Sister Act 2 alongside
the more prestigious films of the pitch, and never really bothering to check
the seams of its stitching. Laurence Fishburne’s grumpy English professor (is
there any other kind?) has an underdeveloped back story. The transient foil
provided by Akeelah’s family is taken out of the equation about midway through
the film, which calls into question its necessity.
All you 54s get to use that side of the stage.
What it does well is carry the same emotional
pacing and payoff as its more athletically-minded peers; that’s no small feat,
considering that the field of battle is a small stage, and the warriors are a
little girl and a nerdy Asian boy. There’s a surprising nobility in the verbal
duel which touches the heart a little more deeply than a simple sequence of
What I’m especially pleased with is how maturely
the academics, and the love of knowledge, are presented. Instead of offering a
rote "stay in school" message, Akeelah and the Bee actually
contains some significant education in its script, mostly communicated through
Laurence Fishburne. His former professor gets to explain some nuggets of
grammatical wisdom essential to literacy, yet often overlooked. Plus, he
emphasizes a gestalt in the learning
process, forcing Akeelah to read some of the finer works of oration and fiction
in the English language in order to see the words as more than constructs of
Okay, so you get a couple of the same grammar
lessons in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and you’re guaranteed to have more fun
watching that, but Akeelah wears a plain love of language which is gratifying, to
me, and puts a sliver of cohesion into the space left by the rough plotting.
Trust me, kid, those ribbons do not taste at all like victory.
Akeelah and the Bee is
something of a niche product, but its niche has been mostly vacant so far. It’s
charming, thoughtful, and some other adjective probably from Latin origin. If
nothing else, you can show it to your nerdy children to compensate for the fact
that you tease them about their taped-up glasses and never supported them in
their academic endeavors. It’s the least you could do.
The bonuses are geared toward the younger viewer,
and include a music video with Keke Palmer, a featurette on the bonding of the
young cast, a bit of a character profile on Akeelah, and your requisite
making-of. There’s also a blooper reel and a small selection of deleted scenes.
out of 10