Queen of Katwe

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Another true life Disney story hit the theaters recently with the arrival of Queen of Katwe, an emotional and enjoyable romp through the competitive world of chess (with no sign of Bobby Fischer) and a poor village in Uganda called Katwe.

Young Phiona (Madina Nalwanga) was a girl who would sell maze to people in their small village of Katwe.  The money she brought in helped her family, who had been struggling since the death of her father.  Phiona’s mother Nakku (Lupita Nyong’o) desperately tried to provide for her family while staying true to her moral code.

Meanwhile, Robert Katende (David Oyelowo) was trying to get an engineering job, but his lack of a family tree was an obstacle.  He took a job with an outreach community organization to help coach the kids of the area.  Robert introduced chess to the kids and when Phiona arrived, he quickly determined that she was something special.

There were some really strong performances in Queen of Katwe.  Oyelowo and Nyong’o are special actors and they brought their “A” game.  All of the children involved were really very good as well, especially Madina Nalwanga.  This was her debut appearance and she carried herself wonderfully with big time established actors playing opposite her.  There were a lot of entertaining children in this movie, but Nalwanga has a bright future ahead of her.

One of the things that I really liked in this film was the presentation of the village of Katwe and the challenges that faced the families there.  Yes, this is a Disney film so you aren’t going to see a full on display of the challenges of the people of Katwe, but they did look at the difficult lives of these people which included females having to “sell” themselves to men in order to provide for their families.  The use of that topic in this film surprised me, but it felt like an undeniable reality of someone struggling to survive this harsh environment.

I also enjoyed the scenes where the children were placed in different surroundings at the chess tournaments.  Such situations as discovering ketchup was just perfect little touches and was played beautifully by these young actors.

I would say that the film leaned toward being too formulaic, as we have seen other Disney sports themed  movies that would echo this one, and the film did feel a little long at times, but these are not glaring weaknesses that prevent one from enjoying this inspirational tale of the underdog overcoming her obstacles.

3.9 stars

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