When I first heard the title AKEELAH AND THE BEE, I basically avoided this movie like the plague. Based on the name alone, I figured it was some Disney cartoon about an African child and her relationship with a cute little drone.

Thankfully, a rave on the Siskel and Ebert show introduced me to the truth about this wonderful movie – AKEELAH AND THE BEE is not only one of the best family movies of 2006 but one of the best movies of that year period.

AKEELAH AND THE BEE, at its core, is a celebration of the kid who doesn’t quite fit in, the young person who somehow seems an older soul, an outcast. Every one of us has either been this adolescent or surely remembers one from our school years. Akeelah also has a rather remarkable talent – she is able to spell words that would baffle the smartest of graduate students.

I honestly don’t think your opinion of spelling bees in general will affect how you feel about the film itself.

I personally find the Scripps Spelling Bee as exciting as the World Series, probably moreso. It’s not a coincidence that ESPN broadcasts this event every year. It’s heart-pounding, sweat-inducing, bite-your-fingernails, edge-of-your-seat delirium – the Super Bowl of the Sudoku crowd.

AKEELAH AND THE BEE will be nothing new to anyone who has seen ROCKY, THE KARATE KID, GOOD WILL HUNTING, etc, etc, etc. Akeelah (Keke Palmer, an awesome performance) even has her own Mickey Goldmill/Mr. Miyagi/Dr. Maguire in the person of Dr. Larabee (Laurence Fishburne) , a UCLA professor on sabbatical who coaches Akeelah on her linguistic journey from a shabby junior high that can’t afford doors on the bathroom stalls, all the way to our nation’s capital.

Image from the movie "Akeelah and the Bee"

© 2006 Lions Gate Films − All right reserved.

What AKEELAH AND THE BEE lacks in originality, it totally makes up for in spirit and heart. And that it has in abundance! Keke Palmer creates a truly memorable character – she makes Akeelah a flesh and blood, warts and all heroine for this story. Unfortunately, the adult characters can’t make the same claim. Akeelah’s mother, in particular, played by Angela Bassett, is a cliché-ridden character and her 180 degree turnabout not terribly believable. Fishburne plays Dr. Larabee as if he just finished watching every Morgan Freeman movie ever made.

The last ten or fifteen minutes of the movie leaves me in a quandary. If you take the time to watch this movie, or if you have already seen it, I would love to get your opinion. Akeelah makes a crucial decision, which I shall not divulge, that is necessary in order for the film to end the way it does, but I’m not certain how believable it is, even though we know she has a heart of gold. At the same time, it’s a truly satisfying and emotional ending – and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I suppose sometimes, when a movie has captured our hearts, we are more often prone to forgive and suspend disbelief.

In its 112 minute running time, I counted only four naughty words, which is something of a miracle. Akeelah is 11 years old in the movie, and I think that would be a target audience, possibly a bit older, depending on the maturity level of the youngster. Two characters have lost loved ones, which are important plot points, so this could lead to some good and important discussion afterwards. Isn’t it interesting how death seems to propel so many family movies? Be it the death of a parent, a friend, a pet, you name it.

AKEELAH AND THE BEE is a wonderful family movie! Re-watching it again preparing for this blog, I was amazed how well it held up – and how I didn’t breathe for the last 20 minutes of the movie, even though I knew exactly what was going to happen. You’ll change the channel with a tear in your eye and a lump in your throat!

Movie Ratings|The Holy Mess

JEFF RATING: 4 Stars

PARENTAL WARNINGS:  A very few uses of bad language.

SUGGESTED VIEWING AGE:  11 and up