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If you’re a parent of school-aged children and anything like me, you’re just coming out of a Christmas season of too many sweet treats and too much syrupy family entertainment. To wake up those sugar-shocked brains for a new semester, Amazon’s The Aeronauts (rated PG-13 for realistic peril) offers a pleasing mental palate cleanser.
It traces the true-ish story of how two Victorians nearly lost their lives breaking the French altitude record in a basket dangling from an inflated bag at a height jets soar at today. The achievement helped create the modern field of meteorology.
Royal Society astronomer James Glaisher (Eddie Redmayne) doesn’t want to join in the latest 19th-century amusement of taking an aerial pleasure cruise. Armed with gauges and notebooks, he’s set his sights on the wild blue yonder in the cause of science. When no male balloon pilots are willing to take him as high as he needs to go for his measurements, he turns to Amelia Wren (Felicity Jones).
This brings up the movie’s weakest point. Likable as Jones’ performance is, why did Glaisher’s real-life pilot—a dashing figure named Henry Coxwell—need to be supplanted by a fictional jill-of-all-trades? While there were women balloonists in the 19th century, we have a sense while watching The Aeronauts that the filmmakers pass over much intriguing detail in favor of the same old free-spirited-lady-teaches-serious-minded-man-how-to-embrace-life trope.
Not only is it unfair to write Coxwell out of history, but the film’s portrayal of Glaisher as overly clinical also seems inaccurate. At least if his poetic waxings—like how a common road looked from the sky like a “line of brilliant fire … covered with gold-dust”—are anything to go by.
That said, the film does a good job working within the stereotypes. For children ages 8 to 12 who are just beginning to appreciate thrilling tales that don’t star animated characters, The Aeronauts is a winner. What it lacks in original storytelling it makes up for in exuberance over the beautiful world God has created for us to explore—and the joy in applying our minds to its mysterious workings.