Sure, as a Disney inspiration story or a Disney sports story, it follows a pretty predictable path of underdog-goes-for-glory, succeeds. But the narrative crafted here is still beautiful and inspiring.
In that very Disney way, the film introduces us to the not-so-mysterious yet still somehow compelling slums of Kampala in Uganda where we meet Phiona (Madina Nalwanga). She is the center of the film who gets plucked from her life selling corn on the street and is then prepped, husked, and primed for greatness via the world of competitive chess.
While the film did not get any Oscar nods, the film surely warrants attention of its own as yet another wonderfully inspirational piece and for delivering one of my personal favorite lines in recent cinema history; marked for its simplicity but ever just as motivational:
“In chess, the small one can become the big one.”
In the context of the story, Phiona is being informed about the ins and outs of chess but the true heart of the quote is clearly broader in scope. And sure, while it does ring in just a little on the nose, it’s sometimes the more simple of metaphors that can prove the most impactful and affirmative.
Perhaps most notable is the performance by Lupita Nyong’o as Phiona’s mother Harriet; confirming yet again that Academy Award winner is the true epitome of movie star. I’m continually surprised and delighted at her range and the characters she crafts, especially here with one based on an actual living person.
The Blu-ray release of the film includes a nice assortment of expected extras including a documentary about the real life inspiration that brought this picture to life, deleted scenes, audio commentary, and more.
- Queen Of Katwe: Their Story is the expected feature of the disc offering a look into the making of the film, drawing comparisons to the original true story.
- Deleted Scenes are always a welcome addition, offering deeper connections into the story. For films like these they are sometimes perhaps less interesting moments cut for time or pacing but they all feature insights by director Mira Nair.
- Graduation – Robert is alone at his graduation.
- Job Application – Robert checks in on the status of his job application.
- Dancing and Rent – Phiona joins in dancing with local girls before the landlady pulls her away.
- Entering the Hospital – Harriet tries to look presentable as they rush Brian to the hospital.
- Escape from the Hospital – The family sneaks out of the hospital.
- They Can’t Go to Budo – Robert second-guesses taking the kids to the competition at King’s College Budo.
- Flood (Extended Scene) – A nearly 7-minute scene before, during and after the house is flooded.
- Phiona’s Chess Club – Phiona comes full circle as she teaches a little boy the same lessons Robert taught her in chess club.
- A Fork, A Spoon & A Knight is director Mira Nair’s short film about Robert Katende, a boy who grows up to transform a Ugandan city into a globally renowned chess sanctuary.
- In The Studio With Alicia Keys is a prerequisite bonus feature to bring in the musical component and offers a behind-the-scenes featurette with Alicia Keys in the process of making the film’s motivational song “Back to Life.”
If you opt for just the DVD release, you’ll be limited to just the following extras which are also included on the Blu-ray edition:
- Alicia Keys “Back To Life” Lyric Video – Sing along with on-screen lyrics.
- Young Cardamom & HAB “#1 Spice” Music Video – The Ugandan hip-hop duo bring the flavor in a music video directed by Mira Nair.
- Audio Commentary with Director Mira Nair.
QUEEN OF KATWE is available on Blu-ray and DVD January 31.