LeVar Burton sits in a library reading a book in this still from 'Butterfly in the Sky: The Story of Reading Rainbow'.
(Netflix)

Yes, You Will Cry During Netflix’s ‘Reading Rainbow’ Documentary

5/5 butterflies in the sky.

If you’re burnt out on grisly true crime series and horrific exposés of children’s programming, a new documentary will inspire feelings of non-problematic nostalgia. Butterfly in the Sky: The Story of Reading Rainbow delves into the making of the iconic PBS kids series, in a film that is as warm and welcoming as the show itself.

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Taking a page from fellow feel-good docs like Won’t You Be My Neighbor? and Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street, directors Bradford Thomason and Brett Whitcomb (Jasper Mall, GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling) tell the story of Reading Rainbow‘s creation with help from the show’s creators, producers, and (of course) host LeVar Burton.

Reading Rainbow ran from 1983-2006, creating 155 episodes over 23 seasons. The documentary introduces series creators Dr. Twila Liggett and Tony Buttino, who partnered with producing couple Cecily Truett Lancit and Larry Lancit to create the iconic kids series. The film follows the creation of the series, and the casting of rising star LeVar Burton as the show’s iconic host.

Reading Rainbow was not about learning to read, it was about loving to read,” says Buttino in an interview, and it’s a sentiment that is clearly shared by everyone involved. From music director Steve Horelick (who crafted that iconic theme song) to Galaxy Quest director Dean Parisot (who worked on the series early in his career), everyone interviewed for the film knew the importance and value of sharing a love of reading with the audience.

For Generation X and elder millennials, the nostalgia will hit you right in the feels: from the theme song to the books we loved (Gila Monsters Meet You at the Airport! Louis the Fish!) to Burton’s welcoming presence, Butterfly in the Sky taps into those childhood memories. The film also explores the importance of Burton’s casting and the series’ commitment to diversity and representation before those terms were even in the cultural lexicon.

There isn’t much conflict in the film, and most issues are easily resolved. Would Burton be able to juggle his hosting gig with his role on Star Trek: The Next Generation? Of course! Will the producers let him wear a gold hoop earring? Obviously! The film’s most poignant moments come when Burton testifies before Congress about the importance of public television, and when the show does a special episode addressing 9/11.

Butterfly in the Sky is a tender tribute to a beloved kids’ program and a reminder of that magical feeling of getting lost in a book. Take a look.

Butterfly in the Sky: The Story of Reading Rainbow is streaming on Netflix.


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Author
Chelsea Steiner
Chelsea was born and raised in New Orleans, which explains her affinity for cheesy grits and Britney Spears. An pop culture journalist since 2012, her work has appeared on Autostraddle, AfterEllen, and more. Her beats include queer popular culture, film, television, republican clownery, and the unwavering belief that 'The Long Kiss Goodnight' is the greatest movie ever made. She currently resides in sunny Los Angeles, with her husband, 2 sons, and one poorly behaved rescue dog. She is a former roller derby girl and a black belt in Judo, so she is not to be trifled with. She loves the word “Jewess” and wishes more people used it to describe her.