Hot Take: A rare purely positive experience at the theater. The thought of the story will warm your heart for days. It should put even the most cynical in checkmate.
The biggest criticism you might be able to send across Queen of Katwe‘s bow is that there’s a Disneyfied aspect to the story. However, a bit of research reveals the heart of the movie’s story beats true as very little of the true tale of Phona Mutesi (Madina Nalwanga), a young girl from the slums of Uganda whose life changes when she realizes her masterful chess talent, is embellished. If anything, the film downplays some of the more gritty aspects of how tough the living conditions for her and her family truly were.
Nalwanga is a delight as Mutesi. Her coach is portrayed by David Oyelowo who is equally strong as the one who recognizes Phona’s talent and pushes her to harness it into something bigger than she could imagine. Lupita Nyong’o as Mutesi’s mother also shows her star power in the supporting role. There is also a cast of young actors making up the rest of the chess team from Katwe known as The Pioneers that add color and pure joy to this uplifting film.
It’s difficult to find huge fault in anything the movie does. It is calculated in its attempts to be inspirational and somewhat formulaic when you think of other true Disney sports movies (Cool Runnings comes to mind almost immediately). However, it works well and Phona Mutesi’s story provides inspiration and triumph that is worth being celebrated, even Disneyfied. It is a rare sight to see someone overcome such great challenges as she does in becoming a Ugandan chess champion. The performances all felt genuine and backed by Oyelowo and Nyong’o’s supporting roles, the film is elevated enough to make it one of the better films of 2016.
“Spoiler Free” Pros
- There’s Something About Chess
As boring as a movie about chess sounds, there’s something about the game that lends itself to the big screen. While very dissimilar to boxing, both translate amazingly to the big screen and Queen of Katwe is no exception.
As the titular “queen”, Nalwanga is excellent as Phona Mutesi. It’s her first role but it feels like we might see her again after a strong, inspirational performance.
- The Supporting Cast
There is excellent chemistry amongst the entire cast as the story unfolds, the cast works together incredibly.
“Spoiler Free” Cons
While they don’t need to stretch the truth, the film definitely has Disney’s fingerprints on it.
- Right Down to the Song
Stick around for the credits and you’ll see what I mean.