Disney Educational Productions // 1998 // 116 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Kent Dixon (Retired) // July 15th, 2009
"This is a simple story...but not an easy one to tell." -- Giosué Orefice
By now most people are aware of a little film called Life is Beautiful. Despite the core focus of the story being on World War II-era Italy and the Nazi regime, the film relieves much of the sadness and horror of the setting by letting the childlike imagination of writer/actor Roberto Benigni loose. The resulting film, while tragic and sad at many points throughout, is lightened by romance, humor, and the triumph of the human spirit over hate, ignorance, and oppression.
Both the video presentation and the cover art include a warning to educators that they should preview the content before showing them to students as both the film and bonus material contain scenes that "depict human suffering and loss of life." While it's unlikely that students younger that 15 years old would be viewing this material, it's still very responsible of Disney to consider this up front.
A division of The Walt Disney Company, Disney Educational Productions delivers high-quality productions in an interactive DVD format that is ideal for educators at all levels from kindergarten through high school. The series offers programming in the following subject areas: Disney Nature, social studies, language and arts, math and science, and health and safety. Within those subject groupings, educators can find programming from series such as "The Science of Disney Imagineering," "ABC News Classroom," "Based on Books," "Bill Nye The Science Guy," "Disney's Animal World," "New True Life Adventures," "Schoolhouse Rock," "The Eyes of Nye" and "Safety Smart."
Bundled as part of a "Holocaust Studies" series under the social studies category, the Life is Beautiful: Classroom Edition is a helpful resource that will assist teachers and students as they work through this emotionally-charged topic in their social studies curriculum. Both the audio and video presentations on this release are solid and free of any distortion, as can be expected from a recent release. One strange omission is the lack of an English subtitle track to accompany the Italian audio track, making it impossible for non-Italian speaking audiences to enjoy anything other than the English track.
Beyond the film itself, this release includes an educator's guide and two short featurettes entitled "The Last Outrage: The Dina Babbitt Story" and "The Power of Propaganda." The educator's guide sets the stage nicely for teachers to generate in-depth discussions in their classrooms by offering a synopsis of the film, suggested classroom activities that connect the film to existing curriculum content, and pre- and post-viewing questions to encourage discussion and reflection. The guide also includes an exhaustive list of additional resources on the topic, from other DVD materials to books and website addresses.
Marvel Comics founder Stan Lee introduces "The Last Outrage," a short featurette presented in a combination of motion comic and archival footage. The featurette tells the story of a former Auschwitz inmate named Dina Babbitt who was commissioned by none other than Josef Mengele to paint portraits of Gypsy concentration camp inmates. Once the war ended, the majority of the portraits disappeared but some ended up in the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum. Despite trying to get her portraits back, Ms. Babbitt has been denied any rights of ownership, so this featurette is largely designed to increase support for her case.
"The Power of Propaganda" deals with Hitler and the Nazi's skilful manipulation of public perception, especially among German children and youth to hide the reality of the genocide that was underway during World War II. This featurette makes it clear to viewers that propaganda can lead to prejudice and hatred and that by teaching them tolerance and understanding, we may be able to keep the atrocities of World War II from ever happening again.
While the purchase price may seem steep in the $30 to $50 range, teachers and educators should keep in mind that by purchasing this release, they also receive public performance rights, an educator's guide, exclusive educational bonus features, and assessment tools to reinforce key lessons. Anyone planning to purchase this release for educational purposes should be aware that none of the extra features that were included in the original DVD release of this film are included with the Life is Beautiful: Classroom Edition.
Not guilty. Disney Educational Productions are commended for delivering a quality educational resource to help educators teach students about an emotionally-charged time in history.
Review content copyright © 2009 Kent Dixon; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Disney Educational Productions
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Italian)
Running Time: 116 Minutes
Release Year: 1998
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Educator's Guide