HomeMoviesButterfly in the Sky Review: Distilled Nostalgia

Butterfly in the Sky Review: Distilled Nostalgia

LeVar Burton in the new documentary, BUTTERFLY IN THE SKY.
Photo Courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival

Written by Nicholas Diodato

While Bradford Thomason and Brett Whitcomb don’t try to reinvent the wheel with Butterfly in the Sky, they do hold a unique vision cataloging the production of the classic PBS TV show Reading Rainbow. This film works well as a companion piece to Won’t You Be My Neighbor, Morgan Neville’s documentary behind the other classic PBS show Mister Rogers Neighborhood, as both hold similar plot points and mirror events in Fred Roger’s journey. Not only is this accessible to people who have never seen Reading Rainbow, but it also enhances the experience of watching it by adding further behind-the-scenes context, while never getting lost in the details. This feat makes for an emotional, well-rounded experience, not only showcasing the beauty of the show, but the beauty of documentary filmmaking.

Persuading an audience toward an idea is key to having a quality documentary. The talking heads, the archival footage, and the visual recreations all add up to show the beauty behind a loving production crew. Butterfly in the Sky introduces the audience by having the child-guest reviewers who appeared on Reading Rainbow return to the books they had talked about on the show. This segues the topic onto the kids interacting with the show, how they watched it, and how they presented themselves on television. Their eyes light up, reminiscing the anxiety all writers face when writing reviews, all while being young children. It shows the impact the show had perfectly, through simple talking heads and cutaways. It all culminates in viewers seeing the importance of the media, regardless of whether it is for children. The process shown feels larger than life, almost idealistic, and it consumes attention perfectly. 

Levar Burton as the host for Reading Rainbow is showcased wonderfully. He was the center of everything the show stood for and exemplified knowledge to the nth degree. Burton being a black man certainly added needed representation for children’s show hosts, yet the producers of the show were constantly trying to control Burton’s abilities.  One thing Butterfly in the Sky highlights is Burton’s constant effect on authenticity. No matter what, he controlled how he looked on the show, he warmly talked about extremely personal issues and was the voice his younger self needed to hear. This makes for emotional moments, such as the episodes covering the 9/11 attacks. One of the most climatic moments was when PBS was threatened to lose funding. Burton convinced government officials to continue supporting the channel, just as Fred Rogers did, but in his way. Seeing him fight and advocate for his own moral beliefs was enlightening to the impact Burton had working on the show, acting as a blanket over the audience. It brings back both the fears and comforts of being a child, finding out your way of existing, and how this journey changes you.  

It’s hard to find problems with this documentary because it’s self-aware. The film knows when to add information and when to simply play archived clips of Reading Rainbow. Balancing this was done effortlessly, with a traditional structure. So much was added to the TV show, highlighting its continuous impact on our society. Regardless of one’s love for reading, Reading Rainbow affected millions of children. It broadened worldviews and utilized the power of television with ease. This documentary lets that power sink into the audience. The theme song replaying could give anyone goosebumps, enthralling generations into the world of reading, and simultaneously the real world we live in. The best part too, Butterfly in the Sky asks, “Why interrupt that beauty?” It knows the story it is telling is powerful and continues the message of the source material to a T. 

Butterfly in the Sky is now streaming on Netflix.

Pop-Break Staff
Pop-Break Staffhttps://thepopbreak.com
Founded in September 2009, The Pop Break is a digital pop culture magazine that covers film, music, television, video games, books and comics books and professional wrestling.

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