You probably remember sitting in the waiting room of your doctor’s office as a kid, leafing through an issue of Highlights Magazine; reading “Goofus and Gallant” comics or playing the “Hidden Pictures” game. For the uninitiated, Highlights is an interest magazine written for children that features crafts, games and articles for developing minds. Over its 70 year history the magazine has become a cultural icon in the United States, still family owned and operated. The latest film release from director Tony Shaff (“Hotline”), “44 Pages,” explores the history, philosophy and inner workings of Highlights Magazine.

“44 Pages” opens with bright, colorful shots of the magazine on the printing press. Plucky, upbeat piano and percussion set the documentary’s unwaveringly wholesome tone as the audience is introduced to the Highlights publication staff, all of whom are full of smiles and excitement as they explain their roles in the meticulous creation of the magazine. Central to the film’s portrayal of the company is its dedication to inclusiveness and detail; Highlights does not feature images of witches so as to not wrongfully depict Wiccans, nor do they publish images of Santa Claus. In another scene, an editor points out that an article on Father’s Day should feature alternatives for children without a father in their lives. One of “44 Pages”’s greatest accomplishments is its depiction of Highlights philosophy and mission: to foster growth in “the world’s most important people … children.”

Shaff’s visual direction compliments the documentary in a way that keeps the film stimulating and effective. Shaff favors simple, colorful shots, often juxtaposing dialogue and information with gorgeously composed nature shots of Honesdale, PA, the small town in which Highlights is written. From side shots of the large dinosaur skull in the Highlights publishing office to the whizzing and whirring machines of the printing press, the film’s visual approach presents the world with an idyllic, childlike wonder that is only fitting as the audience accompanies the Highlights staff in thinking like a kid.

The main shortcoming of “44 Pages” is the decided lack of drama, conflict or turbulence; something that makes the film feel less like compelling filmmaking and more like a 90 minute infomercial for Highlights. The closest thing to an obstacle that the team at Highlights faces is the changing form of print media, discussed in the latter half of the documentary. As print media becomes increasingly digitized, it would make sense to assume that print publications have felt the negative effects of this over the last few years. One Highlights employee confirms as much, stating that the magazine is typically losing readers earlier in their childhood than in the past, as well as a slight dip in subscriptions. While this could serve as a source of conflict, that same employee goes on to dismiss the problem entirely, stating that they’ve covered their losses by publishing a spin-off magazine for toddlers. One employee states that if digitization poses a threat, Highlights isn’t worried about it because they believe that people will always want to hold a physical copy of their magazine.

“44 Pages” has a lot going for it; it’s heartfelt, sentimental and beautifully shot. However, in spite of these positives the film suffers from a decided lack of progression, conflict or development; something that causes the film to feel much longer than it actually is. “44 Pages” is not without its compelling moments and clever decisions, but as employee after bubbly employee states that they never thought such an amazing place to work could exist, the film —for all its heart — comes off more like an unnecessarily long advertisement.

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