As the title suggests, there is a little bit of fairy tale moondust sprinkled over this story of a nine-year-old boy who runs away from his home in Mexico to find his mother in Los Angeles. As with all fairy tales, the magical glow makes possible engagement with some heart-wrenching themes that might be too disturbing if told in a more straightforward manner.
Rosario (Kate del Castillo) has come to the United States because it is the only way she can care for her family. Her son Carlitos (Adrian Alonso) lives with his grandmother in Mexico. Carlitos and Rosario do their best to stay closely involved with each other. He even asks her to describe in detail what she sees around her from the pay phone where she makes her weekly call to him so he can picture her as clearly as possible. But after four years, both of them wonder whether getting the money from America is worth being so far apart for so long.
When his grandmother dies, Carlitos crosses the border illegally, hidden in the car of an American citizen of Mexican heritage (“Ugly Betty’s” America Ferrara) and her brother.
Because Carlitos and Rosario are in America illegally, their efforts to find each other are especially treacherous. They have to look for each other without the help of police, social services, a phone directory, or the Internet, based only on what they know after four years of no contact other than their weekly phone calls.
Some adults Carlitos meets are kind to him but a strung-out junkie tries to sell him for drug money and a person from his past lets him down. Another illegal immigrant (Eugenio Derbez) at first refuses to have anything to do with him but gradually becomes his friend.
The story is formulaic and a little syrupy, but sensitive performances and skillful story-telling from writer Ligiah Villalobos (of “Go Diego Go”) and director Patricia Riggen hold our interest. As we see nine-year-old Carlitos and his mother Rosario wake up in the first scene, their scenes are intercut, making the mother and son seem so closely connected we do not realize at first that they are hundreds of miles apart. This sense of their bond throughout the film sheds a glow of hope over the harshness of the circumstances and makes us, for a moment, believe that we, too, are under the moon that shines gently on this mother and son.
Parents should know that this movie has some disturbing material. It is the story of a very young boy who runs away from home to find his mother, which involves crossing the border into the United States illegally. He is in danger several different times. There is a sad death. And while some Americans are kind, we get glimpses of the exploitive treatment of illegal immigrants in several different circumstances and the stresses of trying to support themselves and their families. There are some mild sexual references and characters drink and get a little tipsy.
Families who see this movie should talk about how their own members and friends first came to the United States. They may also want to talk about the different ideas about the treatment of immigrants that the U.S. has had over the years and the different proposals currently being debated.
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy An American Tail (for children), In America and “El Norte” (for teens and adults).