DVD/Blu-ray Reviews

Akeelah and the Bee - DVD Review

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</script></div>{/googleAds}Just when you thought the long reach of the Starbucks marketing machine had gone a bit haywire after wrapping its greedy tentacles around such non-coffee products as confections, music CDs, and kitchen appliances, they go poking around the movie-making industry. For those who don't know, Starbucks is a major financial contributor to the production of Akeelah and the Bee, a fine little feel-good film that seems as if it could be something right out of the Disney Corporation itself.

While the ultimate success of its cross-industry ventures is still mostly up for debate, one thing is for certain. If its first venture into filmmaking is any indication of the types of movies it wants to make, then welcome aboard! The world can use more motion pictures like this. While a bit typical, predictable, and overtly syrupy, any of the film's shortcomings are far outweighed by its big heart and inspirational story. No pimps. No hos. No gangsta glorification. And I never felt as if I were being forced to overlook someone's crime-ridden lifestyle to cheer for their success, as is the case with many other urban "overcoming the odds" stories such as Hustle & Flow.

Its title character (Keke Palmer) is an inner city Los Angeles middle school student with a penchant for spelling. While not a trait that garners many friends amongst her fellow pupils, her principal (Curtis Armstrong) spots it as a special gift and encourages Akeelah to participate in the school's spelling bee. He enlists the aid of a semi-retired professor, Dr. Larabee (Laurence Fishburne), a la Sean Connery's William Forrester, who agrees to tutor Akeelah while setting their sights on the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

Akeelah is forced to overcome many obstacles in her journey to Scripps. Including her mother (Angela Bassett), an overburdened single mom who thinks Akeelah shouldn't waste so much of her time on non-practical applications, and a girlfriend who'd rather talk to boys. Akeelah's mother is the least developed character of the entire cast. She makes it clear that gangbanging and drug use are forbidden, but we're never really quite able to figure out why she's so against spelling bees.

Writer/Director Doug Atchison tries a bit too hard to draw emotional parallels between Akeelah, who lost her scrabble-playing father and Professor Larabee, who mourns the death of his young daughter. It sometimes comes off as cheap sentimentality, but overall, the emotions are genuine and are never overplayed. He deploys an extremely methodical style of filmmaking that is the product of a tight shooting schedule and a miniscule budget. Shot in just over 30 days in the heart of South Central LA, Atchison relied heavily on well-planned storyboards. This results in the dot-to-dot pacing of the film at the expense of a more organic flow.

Like 2002's Spellbound, the film that inspired it, Akeelah and the Bee is equally poignant and affecting. Both films strike at that magical corner of the heart where we like to store life's pleasant memories. It's not quite as important as Spellbound, but plays upon the same emotions.


DVD Details:

Screen formats: Widescreen Anamorphic 1.85:1

Subtitles: English; Spanish; Closed Captioned

Language and Sound: English: Dolby Digital 5.1; English: Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo

Other Features: Color; interactive menus; scene access; deleted scenes; making-of featurettes; gag reel.

* Featurettes
o The Making of Akeelah and the Bee - 22:00 - With interviews with Atchison and the entire cast.
o Keke & Doug: Two Peas in a Pod - 04:20
o Inside the Mind of Akeelah - 07:00
* Deleted Scenes - seven scenes that didn't make the final cut.
* Music Video - 03:15 - "All My Girlz"
* Bloopers - 01:49 - Gag Reel
* Trailers - for Durango Kids; Arthur's Missing Pal, and Madea's Family Reunion.

Number of discs: - 1- Keepcase Packaging


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