March 7, 2018 – I rented this from Red Box mainly because of the Academy Award nomination for Willem Dafoe, who plays motel manager Bobby in this film. He is every bit as good as you would expect for such an honor, but it is the kids who steal the show in this film.
Filmed at the Magic Castle Inn and Suites, and at the Paradise Inn in Kissimmee, Florida, this film about mischievous kids running loose during the summer vacation contrasts the carefree play of children with the harsh reality facing the adults around them. The three children at the heart of this story, Moonee (played by Brooklynn Kimberly Prince) Jancey (Valeria Cotto) and Scooty (Christopher Rivera) are extremely cute and funny as they cavort through the businesses, abandoned houses, rural countryside and other places near the cheap motels where they live, not far from Disney World.
In one scene, the kids get into trouble for spitting on a car. They are forced to clean the car, but have so much fun in the process that the owner of the car becomes angry because the “punishment” is having no effect on them. One thing about these kids, they are in great shape, since they spend a lot of time outdoors, running everywhere they go. But they do seem to engage in some dangerous behaviors.
Watching over the kids, and everything else that goes on at the Magic Castle, is Bobby. His tough, grizzled exterior and his stern attitude hide a heart of gold. He yells at the kids when they turn the power off to the motel, but then he lets them play hide and seek under his desk while he is working. He keeps an eye on them as he works, chasing off a likely child molester.
Moonee's mother, Halley (Bria Vinaite) doesn't have a job, but she seems to always find ways to come up with the $1,000 a month Magic Castle rent. She and Moonee sell perfume they buy wholesale. They have a deal with a local restaurant worker, Ashley (Scooty's mother) to pick up leftover food at the back door. They panhandle and hustle for money on the streets and around the local businesses near Disney World.
Halley and Mooney have to move out of the Magic Castle Inn every month for one night because the motel management doesn't want them to establish residency there. Things start falling apart for Halley and Moonee when the kids get into trouble and Ashley cuts off their free food supply and forbids Scooty from associating with Halley, Mooney or Jancey.
Halley has to resort to more desperate measures to get money, but Mooney manages to avoid the fallout from the family's deepening financial problems until a final crisis. Bobby likes Halley and Mooney, but there is only so much he can do for them. He is aware of what is going on. Unlike others, he does not judge Halley and tries to help her when he can. In the end, Mooney is still having trouble with the distinction between fantasy and reality, which can be especially difficult when you live so close to a Magic Kingdom. This film rates a B.
The “making of” featurette on the DVD is a worth a look. It shows how the director worked with the kids in the film to shoot all those cute scenes, as well as a very emotional scene. The feature includes location scouting, dealing with bad weather during shooting, taking advantage of the sudden appearance of a rainbow, and other interesting tidbits about filming, such as a script rewrite half way through filming.
Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.