Documentary looks at history of Highlights for Children, the long-running magazine for kids

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For 70 years, Highlights for Children has been a staple of doctor’s offices and dentist’s waiting rooms, offering children education, activities and wholesome life lessons courtesy of (the bumbling) Goofus and (the straight-edged) Gallant.

Highlights is the subject of “44 Pages,” director Tony Shaff’s friendly, soft-peddling documentary that takes a look at the publication’s history and goes behind the scenes of the production of the magazine’s 70th anniversary issue.

Highlights comes off about as chaste as you would imagine. Inside the magazine’s offices in Honesdale, Pennsylvnia, staffers all look and dress like Kindergarten teachers, living embodiments of the mag’s Norman Rockwell image. There’s no racial diversity on the all-white, mostly female staff; it’s the kind of place where if someone really wanted to mix it up, they’d throw grape jelly instead of strawberry on their PB&J.

Highlights, which doesn’t accept advertising and steers clear of politics, is a throwback to an earlier era, but “44 Pages” (named for the length of every Highlights issue) does acknowledge its struggles to keep up with today’s kids. There’s a visit to the Silicon Valley offices where the Highlights app is managed, and talks of the struggles of a print mag in today’s digital world.

Since there isn’t much drama to mine — the biggest hurdle comes from a commissioned cover that is deemed a little too busy — “44 Pages” winds up feeling like an infomercial for “Highlights,” something new employees would watch on their first day at the office. It’s overly protective, especially for anyone who identified with Goofus a little more than they did Gallant.

agraham@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2284

@grahamorama

‘44 Pages’

GRADE: C+

Not rated / Cinema Detroit

Running time: 97 minutes

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