If you're not inspired by Disney+'s Rise, you probably need to have your heart checked.
With the usual tapestry of inspiration and entertainment woven seamlessly together, Rise tells the remarkable story of the Antetokounmpo family. After emigrating from Nigeria to Greece, Charles (Dayo Okeniyi) and Vera Antetokounmpo (Yetide Badaki) struggled to provide for their five children while also always facing the risk of deportation. With their eldest son still living in Nigeria with relatives, they relentlessly pursued Greek citizenship only to be constantly rejected by a system stacked heavily against them. While often resorting to selling goods on the street to survive, brothers Giannis (Uche Agada) and Thanasis (Ral Agada) discovered basketball at a nearby youth club. Discovering a natural talent for the game, they would eventually be joined in the sport by brother Kostas (Jaden Osimuwa). In 2013, Giannis entered the NBA draft in a long shot, at best, prospect with hopes of improving his life and the life of his family.
Playing together for the Milwaukee Bucks last year, Giannis and Thanasis helped bring the club their first championship in 50 years. A year earlier, Kostas had played with the NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers. The brothers had become the first sibling trio to play for NBA championship teams.
Is there a better studio than Disney at producing inspirational family films that somehow manage to play the formula perfectly yet always feeling fresh?
Nope, there's not.
Released on Disney+ on June 24th, Rise is the kind of inspirational sports drama we've come to expect from Disney. As usual, Disney delivers.
I laughed a little. I cried a lot. I was inspired from beginning to end.
While Rise is centered around sports and basketball, it's ultimately around the universal themes of never giving up, chasing your dreams, and the importance of faith and family.
By the end of Rise, you'll likely wish you were a member of the remarkable Antetokounmpo family. Amidst challenges most of us can't even imagine, they not only survive but thrive and support one another along the way. "If one person in the family scores, the entire family scores" as it is spoken at one point in Rise.
Dayo Okeniyi and Yetide Badaki are an absolute joy as Charles and Vera. Charles, who passed away in 2019, is a fiercely devoted father who never stops inspiring his children toward their highest abilities but without the shaming and histrionics we so often see in this type of role. Okeniyi is the heart and soul of this motion picture, a mere smile practically lighting up the screen and his emotionally resonant performance grounding the film in a rich honesty. Similarly, Badaki shines with a maternal presence so wide it feels like it could circle the globe.
Real life brothers Uche and Ral Agada carry a natural sibling chemistry into their portrayals as Giannis and Thanasis. You quietly feel their love and respect for one another and at times it can't help but bring a tear to your eyes. While I can't help but wish we'd had more balanced portrayals of all five siblings, Jaden Osimuwa is here as Kostas but clearly a secondary character, and the film tends to drag in a few spots, the truth is I enjoyed Rise from beginning to end and it reminded me of so many other Disney films over the years that have inspired, informed, and entertained me.
While Rise is a no-brainer for basketball fans, anyone who embraces Disney's unique brand of inspirational family film will fall in love here. This is most definitely a film for the entire family to enjoy.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic