Owning the "Disney film" label immediately creates an expectation of unrestrained sentiment. Most of the time this desperation for striking up emotions leaves a film feeling flat and undeserving, but sometimes these stories are handled earnestly and told with conviction. Mira Nair's Queen of Katwe is certainly the latter, making this examination of a third-world girl who discovers an unthinkable talent a worthwhile true story.
Phiona (Madina Nalwanga) is a poor girl living in Katwe, the slums of Uganda. She spends her days selling vegetables with her siblings trying to help their mother pay the rent for their tiny and feeble shack which houses them. But after Phiona is introduced to the game of chess by a missionary (David Oyelowo) for the local ministry, her nature ability proves to be extraordinary as she works to transform her family's lives by achieving greatness on a global stage.
There's a natural appeal to the underdog story, something that's clearly the backbone of Queen of Katwe. You're transported into Phiona's undesirable third-world lifestyle, where she somehow finds content in her menial life. An interesting dynamic to the film occurs when she begins to find nationwide success in the game of chess and finally experiences the types of things we all take for granted in life. Upon her return to the tiny village of Katwe, seeing the other side of things broadens her perspective of the world and we watch as the young woman's content fades to resentment. Queen of Katwe tells a deep and insightful story that never feels predictable. Its talented pair of leading stars, Lupita Nyong'o and David Oyelowo, are almost upstaged by the outstanding work of newcomer Madina Nalwanga. But despite these fine performances and this intriguing story, Queen of Katwe is slightly hampered by an anti-climactic finale and small doses of the stereotypical Disney sentiment.