Filmmaker Len Morris' densely packed informational documentary on child labor, "Stolen Childhoods," crisscrosses the globe, visiting eight countries — including the United States — to illustrate the severity of the circumstances under which a reported 246 million children toil. An impassioned plea for change, the film balances bleak, Dickensian conditions with details of a growing number of international programs designed to combat the epidemic.
From a carpet loom in India and a coffee farm in Kenya to a bordello in Mexico City and garbage dumps in Brazil, Morris and his crew traveled to chronicle what Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) calls "the last form of slavery." Interviews with children, some of whom have worked since they were 4, describe kidnapping, enslavement, exposure to dangerous pesticides and worse.
Narrated by Meryl Streep, the film thoughtfully lays out the facts while highlighting various programs that aim to eliminate economic incentives to exploit children, and to return them to their families, enabling them to go to school. Although some countries still pay lip service to existing laws prohibiting child labor, others are home to uncompromising advocates of children's rights working tirelessly to end these practices.
"Stolen Childhoods," unrated. Unnerving portraits of exploited children, but suitable for all but the very young. Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes. Exclusively at Laemmle's Music Hall, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 274-6869.
Plunging into 'Deep Blue' Numerous films have explored undersea life, but few as comprehensively and as consistently compelling as "Deep Blue," by the creators of the "Blue Planet" TV series. Five years in the making, with 20 camera teams dispatched to about 250 worldwide locations, "Deep Blue" is beautifully structured as it traverses the ocean between the poles and countless points in between. Besides its sheer comprehensiveness, this film, directed by Alastair Fothergill and Andy Byatt, differs from most other nature films in its utter lack of sentimentality. Narrator Pierce Brosnan observes up front that sea creatures live in "constant jeopardy" within "the eternal cycle of birth, death and renewal." Nature movies seem reflexively to be rated G, but parents should know that this film is highlighted by some intensely brutal Darwinian sequences: a 30-ton gray whale mother deeply protective of her calf but unable to save it from predators; adorable baby seals becoming acquainted with the ocean only to be savagely devoured by whales; a great swarm of sardines under simultaneous attack by multiple predators — and more.
There is also, of course, much awe-inspiring grandeur, especially in the film's extensive undersea sequences. "Deep Blue" even travels 15,000 feet beneath the surface, a lightless, oxygen-deprived region where stalagmite-like chimneys 16 stories tall belch hydrogen sulfide yet harbor among the largest number of species found anywhere on Earth. Having presented innumerable wondrous creatures, "Deep Blue" ends on a quietly sobering note: The oceans once were home to 300,000 blue whales; today, their population has been reduced to 1% of that number.
"Deep Blue," Sunset 5, (323) 848-3500. (1:30) Rated G (general audiences).