Disney // 2007 // 165 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Daryl Loomis // January 27th, 2010
Every child is special.
Wait, what's this, a family film I can wholly recommend? What has this world come to?
Eight-year-old Ishaan (Darsheel Safary) is a great kid, but he's not so hot in school. He has such a hard time with his studies, that he's about to repeat the third grade for the second time. His family sends him off to boarding school in an attempt to make him less lazy and improve his grades. He's not lazy, though, he's dyslexic, and nobody understands this until a new art teacher, Ram Shankar Nikumbh (Aamir Khan, Fanaa, who also directed and produced) comes to the school. From his own personal troubles with dyslexia, he identifies the problem and works overtime to make Ishaan feel comfortable with himself and develop strategies to help him cope with his condition.
Ishaan is an adorable, loving little boy, that doesn't matte to a society that values success over happiness. Ishaan also has considerable artistic talent, but that matters even less. This value system has no national boundaries; it is a societal ill and demonstrates an utter lack of care for individual students, preferring to prepare them to their dronish future. This is especially true for those children who struggle to learn in traditional methods. We tend to hope that every child learns in exactly the same manner as everybody else and, if they don't live up to our expectation, we call them lazy, or worse. In reality, it's the parents, the teachers, and the administrators who are lazy. Unwilling or unable to try different tactics to help these children, they are left behind. Anything else would be too much work.
Ishaan doesn't know that there's anything different about him. He sees the world how he sees it. At only eight, he's had neither the time nor the experience to decide that he doesn't want to learn, or whatever people say of him. This leaves the boy despondent and totally alone. This is why teachers like Nikumbh are so vital. It may take a lot of extra work, but he recognizes the problem and is compelled to help. He goes so far as to travel many miles to visit with his parents and sets up extra-curricular programs to get the boy engaged with learning.
A stylish and moving film, Like Stars on Earth uses Ishaan's dyslexia and artistic inclinations to dictate the look and feel of the film. The title sequence starts with a few English words, all easy to read, but it ramps up quickly, gaining in speed until there is too much to keep track of, at which point algebraic equations and Hindi letters enter the picture to make the whole thing maddeningly confusing. Such is the way Ishaan sees his schoolbooks, and Aamir Khan stays consistently focused on the way Ishaan sees the world. Brief sequences of claymation show his artistic mind; an homage (maybe unintentional) to Calvin and Hobbes has Ishaan imagining his own version of Spaceman Spiff in order to decipher 3x9; these types of sequences populate the film, putting us into Ishaan's beautiful, often confused mind as we move toward an emotionally rewarding, if thoroughly predictable finish.
Like Stars on Earth work very well on all levels, from the story to the actors to the direction. Khan, who was already starring and producing, had to direct when the original director, Amole Gupte (also the screenwriter), left the film. He shows competence in his debut, featuring a varied approach to his technique which works well to accent the characters. Take, for instance, the first musical number. In the scene, mom is making breakfast for her family as dad and the two sons start getting ready for work and school, the same thing three times in succession. Her husband and eldest son, the studious one, are first and second. The song is fast and the editing is sharp with a staccato beat. When we get to Ishaan, the song slows down, as does the camerawork, utilizing longer takes and sweeping movements. From this, we can already tell the relative personalities of the characters, giving us a basis to relate to them before we've really met them. The film is vibrantly colored, and the use of imagination sequences, both on their own and mixed into the real world, gives the film a magical feel that is totally satisfying from start to finish.
Disney's DVD of Like Stars on Earth is the way all films should be treated, but sadly, are not. This set is a complete package, with almost anything one could want included. The anamorphic widescreen image looks brilliant, full of vibrant colors and strong detail. The transfer is nearly perfect and, with deep black levels and crisp, clean whites, you can't ask for a better picture, at least in standard definition. The 5.1 surround sound is equally good as the image, if not better. Highs and lows are represented equally well, perfectly clear all the way around. The dialog, in Hindi with English interjections, is all easy to hear and understand, and the subtitles are there no matter the language, in case the viewer has difficulty understanding through the accents. The low end is booming, especially during the songs. Strong separation in all channels makes for an excellent audio experience.
The special features in this set are also very good throughout. An audio commentary with Khan starts us off and, though it isn't the most exciting one in the world and he expressly states that he doesn't like to do them, he still relays some interesting stories about the production. That is the only feature on the first disc, with the second containing the remainder. These include about twenty minutes of deleted scenes; most are short and functional, but Khan does a good job of explaining both what he liked about them and why they were cut. A making-of featurette is your average behind-the-scenes fare. By far, the strongest feature is a near-hour long panel discussion on children which, more specifically, has Khan and a number of teachers and experts having a detailed conversation about the diagnosis and method of teaching those with learning disabilities, going farther than dyslexia into discussion of ADHD and cerebral palsy. This piece is quite valuable for anybody looking for a little better understanding of these children. Finally, a separate CD featuring the songs from the film is always a great feature. However often I'll listen to the disc, this type of feature is the best added-value that can be added.
Like Stars on Earth gets its message across without any hint of preachiness. The smart and emotional story plays nicely with the stylish look and quality musical numbers. This import from Disney should appeal to all but the most jaded among us. I thought I was in that category, but it worked on me.
Review content copyright © 2010 Daryl Loomis; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Hindi)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 165 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Deleted Scenes
* Bonus CD
* Official Site