Is Les Miserables appropriate for children? (and my thoughts on the new movie)

**This review of Les Miserables contains spoilers**

I’ve seen Les Mis in the theater at least 4 times. I know the music. I know the characters. And I always thought that I knew the story. But over the past few weeks, as I’ve been listening to the Broadway production while I work, I realized that I didn’t actually know the story. Not really. When you see a Broadway show like Les Miserables, you see the set, you see the dancing, you hear and live the music and you see the show. But following the story… it’s hard to follow a story when there is so much to watch–so much not to miss.

les miserables review children

My sister was eight when she first saw the show–oh, how she loved it. But I wonder, did she understand the life that Fantine suffered? Did she recognize that there was so much love, so much war, so many people being slain and dying? Did she recognize the love, the  brutality? The loneliness? The desire?

Last night, I attended the preview of Les Miserables in Philadelphia. The music was moving, the story line so much more clear than on Broadway. I realized so much more than I ever had before. (I’m writing this under the assumption that you, too, know parts of the story and, therefore, will not go into details. For those who don’t know the story, no need to read the Cliff Notes, it’s very clear in the film. But do know before you read on that this review includes spoilers.)

It’s a classic story of good versus evil, but twisted. This story explores the questions could an evil become good? At what point do we forgive?

I recall, years ago when I saw the show on Broadway, asking my dad how Javert (played by Russell Crowe) could have not forgiven Valjean (Hugh Jackman) after all those years of being a good man. He explained then that Javert was an officer of the law–there was no gray in his world, no changing. There are rules that must not be broken. Crowe’s theatrical performance excelled in emphasizing just this, and reminded me of the conversation. He walked a line, he struggled, but to his character, the law is the law. And when it is broken, one must pay.

In light of recent events, and the questions so many of us have right now, I am struck by how this theme sticks out to me. We are all questioning life, good, bad, life decisions. The law… is the law. And there are those who only see that.

This is also a story of love. Of a mother’s love, a father’s love, and love of friendship and desire. This is a story that will hold a place in your heart.

The music

The musical performances were, in many cases, astounding. I’d like to see more credit given to Samantha Barks who plays Eponine in the film (as well as the 25th anniversary concert.) The depth of her voice, it’s powerful. Her love, her acting… amazing. She was born to play this part. Anne Hathaway (Fantine) gave so much of herself to this film and it’s evident. She embodied Fantine and portrayed her with beauty. Hugh Jackman (Valjean) was enjoyable. His performance believable; his transformation, striking. Eddie Redmayne’s performance as Marius was beautiful and believable. Amanda Seyfried who stole hearts in Mama Mia, played the lovable Cosette — I’m amazed a voice can hit notes so high.  Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter, playing the comical Thenardiers, were able to not only lighten the deepest moments, but enveloped their parts playfully. I fell in love with the young revoluntionary cast–their Drink with Me was stronger than any performance I remember from Broadway.

We have a little crush on Russell Crowe around our home. My husband and I have probably seen every one of his films. You can always tell just how much he becomes his part and he truly became the good, but somehow, evil, Javert. It’s a reach to say his singing voice matched the performances I’ve seen and listened to for years. I’ve always imagined Javert to be powerful and, while this portrayal was that, his musical performance was lacking. (You have to know how hard this is to write. But as my husband said so well last night “really? he sings? hm. really?”) 

I have the CD on order. I’m not certain whether I want it. I LOVE the power of of the males on Broadway and in the 25th annivesary edition. That power was missing from both Valjean and Javert in the music (but not at all missing in the performances. Perhaps I should hold off on the CD and, eventually, buy the DVD.)

I remind myself, that when you see a film, you don’t see it as much for the musical performance as you do for the story. And, as I said above, the story was beautiful. So well portrayed, so well told. From the closeups to the scenes of France, they did a phenomenal job of bringing the stage onto the screen–of bringing the story to focus and of helping you to live the story yourself.

Should children see Les Miserables?

In a word, no. The film is rated PG-13, but is so very graphic I’m not sure young teens are even ready to see it, especially in light of recent events. Songs (like Empty Chairs at Empty Tables) and scenes (like young Gavroche being shot twice and all of the young revolutionaries being lined up after their deaths) — it all is just too real. Eddie Redmayne’s Empty Chairs at Empty Tables told two very hard to hear stories in my mind last night. I had trouble separating them. 12 hours later, I’m still having trouble. (And I’m crying every time I read this paragraph.) And as much as you want to turn off the thoughts of the recent shooting while you’re enjoying a movie, it’s just too hard right now.

So, no. I do not recommend taking your children. I always knew that Javert killed himself in the show, but I never saw it happen like I did last night. I always knew that nearly, as my dear friend Alex said when we saw it years ago, “everyone dies in the end.” But that death was different last night. It was far more real than actors who fall and then run off stage at scene change.

Should you see Les Miserables?

Absolutely. Get a sitter and see the movie. See it in the theater where you’re truly brought into their world. Where the close-ups are reachable, where you can feel the passion. See it where the voices of Samantha Barks, Anne Hathaway and Eddie Redmayne make audiences applaud as if it were live. But recognize, before you go, that you are not seeing something light. That you are seeing something that will become a part of you for years.

mom of 3 and wife living in the Philadelphia suburbs, Julie is a former elementary school teacher and a Public Relations manager. She is the owner/editor of Julieverse, a merchandiser with Chloe + Isabel ( and founder VlogMom and Splash Creative Media. A marketing strategist and freelance education and parenting writer by trade, Julie attempts to carve out time to enjoy playing with her kids, PTO, cooking and exercise.

© 2012, Julie Meyers Pron. All rights reserved.


  1. says

    Thanks for the review Julie. I have not seen the movie yet, but just wrote about taking my daughter to see it next week–because I decided that it is not any worse than things she would see on the news on television. I think knowing our kids is crucial and every family has to make their own decision.

    • says

      you’ll have to let me know what you think, Elena. A friend asked me about it today and I replied “it was good.” She said “just good?” And I said, “no, really good. But, also… good. Like, different good.”

  2. Cynthia says

    I would like to ask…and you may choose not to answer, but I’m curious…

    I have a daughter who is close to 13, in 7th grade, and very mature for her age who really wanted to see this on Christmas. I was about to buy tickets and ran across your blog. Is this a bad idea? I don’t want to scar her and I also feel strongly about her seeing meaningful pieces of cinema. I will be the ultimate one deciding but input is helpful. Any thoughts? Thank you :)

    • says

      SPOLIERS — I went to the show with Jo-Lynne Shane, from Musings of a Housewife, who also reviewed the movie on her site?: I know we both felt the same. Personally, there were scenes that just aren’t easy to watch. If you’ve seen the show, you know that there’s a lot of death in the revolutionaries scene. In the movie, the revolutionaries seemed so much younger than on stage–because you actually see the faces of the men (and Eponine.) You know they’re teens. And you see them all get shot. It’s FAR more graphic than shooting and falling on stage, where people can get up again and walk off stage at the scene change. The shooting of Gavroche was far more than I needed to see. Two of the leaders survive that scene, and you see them, standing unarmed against a wall/window area. They’re chased there by MANY soldiers and shot, execution-style. One falls and hangs out of the window. The rest of the revolutionaries are lined up, dead, after they’ve died. It’s not easy to see a bunch of dead teens lined up.

      I know that the prostitution scene was also difficult, Jo-Lynne mentioned it was more difficult for her to see that scene and that’s what sticks most in her mind.

      Finally, when Javert jumps off the bridge… I just wasn’t ready for that. It’s SO vivid in my mind. I don’t even recall how he killed himself in the show, it was so undramatic because you aren’t looking up close at his face, not seeing his actual fall. Here, the camera catches him as he falls, and splats into the water. That’s the image that’s most ingrained.

      And, like I said in the review, the song “Empty Chairs and Empty Tables”… it meant something entirely differently. For me, I just kept picturing a Kindergarten classroom, and that broke my heart.

      Thirteen. In my faith, that’s an adult. I’m sure a mature 13 year old could watch it and appreciate the film. But just know that there are scenes that will be embedded in her mind after. Definitely worthy of discussions.

      I don’t envy your decision. It’s an amazing movie.

  3. Audrey says

    We are struggling with the decision for our 14 1/2 year old son. Some of the things you describe will be hard for me to watch. I am more cautious than most parents, but he really wants to see it. Just want to do what’s best for him.

    • says

      it’s not an easy decision, especially when it’s the child that wants to see it. All I can advise is to follow your gut… Realizing that you posted this comment on 12/26 (eek! Sorry! I took a surprise vacation!) did you end up seeing it first?

  4. says

    I know that the movie has been out for quite some time, and that most people have either decided to see it or not, but I will chime in… I took my 13 1/2 and 16 year old daughters to see the movie with me on opening day. I had seen the theater production, knew the songs by heart, read the book, etc. and like you I was astounded by how much more I understood after watching this movie version. *Some* of the singing may not be of the highest quality, but as my husband and I decided, they chose the main characters for their acting abilities first and singing second. As hard as it was every now and then to listen to less-than-perfect songs, I know they made the perfect decision in casting who they did. It really payed off.

    And now about my teens – I felt comfortable with them watching it. Yes, there were VERY rough scenes to watch, but I did think that it was tastefully done. You know how you watch movies that you haven’t seen since you were a teen and think to yourself, “I don’t remember that being in there!!” Well, this is not that kind of movie. I think that there are lessons (if lessons is the right word) that are important for people to learn at some point. I think that my girls got a lot out of the movie. And, yes, we all cried.

    • says

      I loved your review here, Lolli. I found myself nodding as I read it. And I totally agree with you, if my 13.5 and 15 year olds were mature and able, I’d let them see it, too. Very much a different movie to them than to you, I’m sure.

  5. Lori says

    My daughter just turned 14, and she is CRAZY about musical theater. She is mature for her age, and she has asked several times if she can see the movie. The toughest part for me and letting her see it is the prostitution scene. My “out” was the rule in our house that children must read the book before they can see the movie. My daughter is also an avid/advanced reader, and she is about a quarter of the way through it, enjoying it very much. So, I’m still on the fence…

    • says

      I love your rule. I’ve never read the book, but that’s quite a book to follow the rule with. Personally, if she read the book and she’s so into musical theater and mature, I’d let her see it. But that’s just me. If you’re really worried about the prostitution scene, I’d definitely talk to her about it first. It was SO much more vivid in the movie. I know Jo-Lynne ( who I saw it with felt that was the hardest part for her to watch. (and it WAS difficult.)

  6. Tomiko Brunetto says

    Examining the nature of law and grace, the novel elaborates upon the history of France, the architecture and urban design of Paris, politics, moral philosophy, antimonarchism, justice, religion, and the types and nature of romantic and familial love. Les Misérables has been popularized through numerous adaptations for the stage, television, and film, including a musical and a film adaptation of that musical.:^^:

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