Batkid Begins

Posted on July 8, 2015 at 5:00 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grades
Copyright 2015 Warner Brothers
Copyright 2015 Warner Brothers

Children with cancer learn two things, we hear in this documentary about a boy who is being treated for leukemia. They learn how to fight. And, because they are surrounded by caregivers, they learn compassion.

When he was two, Miles crawled into bed with his parents, and they felt a lump under his jaw. It was cancer. As he endured treatment, he became fascinated with the old Adam West “Batman” series. He loved seeing Batman and Robin fight for justice. He loved the way they helped people in need. And he loved their costumes. Miles was a kid who really loved to dress up, especially in clothes that made him feel strong and powerful. And so, when he was five and feeling better, it was time for him to get a special treat from the Make-a-Wish people in San Francisco, the city closest to his home. Their goal was to do something that would “give him a bit of his childhood back.” Kids who have seen more pain, danger, fear, and loss than most adults can handle are given a chance to have a dream come true.  Some want to meet a celebrity or go to Disney World.  Miles wanted to be Batman.  And San Francisco Make-A-Wish chapter head Patricia Wilson was determined to make that happen.

We get to see a glimpse of a girl whose wish was to be a pop star.  Wilson arranged for about 200 people to be there to cheer her on.  She figured the same size crowd for Miles.  But something about the story caught on.  It captured the attention of the city and then the world.  They turned San Francisco into Gotham.  The real-life mayor and police chief taped messages ahead of time that would explain what kind of help they needed from Miles.  People flew in to cheer Miles on in person.  “Batman Begins” composer Hans Zimmer wrote him a special theme.  President Obama sent a Vine with his thanks.  Two billion people tuned in to be a part of it.  The idea of a simple act of kindness for a kid who wanted to be a superhero made a lot of people feel good about the world for a little while.  Everybody got a bit of childhood back, not because of what they got but because of what they gave.

Filmmaker Dana Nachman, who made the documentary after the story was over, shows us how it all came together.  Wilson called Eric Johnston, who is in real life pretty close to Batman without the anguish or the Wayne millions.  He is a stuntman and an inventor.  One of the sweetest parts of the film is the way he adores his wife, who gallantly volunteered to be the damsel in distress whose rescue would be the first of three deeds for Johnston as Batman and Miles as Batkid.  Then they would capture the Riddler in the midst of a bank robbery and rescue San Francisco Giants mascot Lou Seal, who had been taken hostage by The Penguin (Mike Jutan).  Creating each of these adventures, from the casting to the costumes, introduces us to some wonderful characters.  I especially loved the opera’s costume department, who pitched in on their own time to make sure the characters would look real.  Miles’ Batkid costume was donated by another child, whose father had created the costume for him.  Johnston took Miles to a rehearsal space for acrobats to get him comfortable with some simple stunts.  The manager had the brilliant idea of having all the regulars show up in superhero costumes.  Why wouldn’t Wonder Woman and The Flash come to the same place to work out and perfect their skills when they were not fighting crime?

She also shows us how the day unfolded, the plans that worked and the ones that didn’t.  Lou Seal almost didn’t make it because the crowds had become so massive he couldn’t get through.  And of course all day there were adjustments based on how Miles was doing.  At the beginning and end of the film we see an interview with Miles and his family.  Was it what they expected?  Miles’ parents both say, reasonably, that they were stunned and overwhelmed by how gigantic it all became. But Miles, taking it all in stride, just says, yep.  And there it is.  What gives him a piece of his childhood back is having something come together just the way he thought it should.  Making that happen, being a part of it, even seeing it in the film and cheering him on, is a reminder of how much magic we can create, and how important it is that we try.

Parents should know that this is a documentary about a child who is being treated for cancer and a program that provides services and special treats for critically ill children and their families.

Family discussion: What wish would you like to help come true? Why do sick kids learn more about compassion than kids who are not sick?

If you like this, try: the Adam West “Batman” series and the PBS documentary about cancer, “The Emperor of all Maladies”

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Documentary Movies -- format Stories About Kids

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