(Foreword: this piece has turned out to be mighty list-y, but I'm not sure I really mind, because the movie is so uncomplicatedly lovely that maybe there's not that much that needs to be said about it.)
It's a bit like Chak De India, isn't it: full of heart-string-tugging tropes, of stories we've heard before, of very effective youngsters and (relatively) subtle, inspiring Khan-jis? As I said about the former, there's nothing wrong with using those raw ingredients if you do something unique, meaningful, and/or entertaining with them, and Taare Zameen Par made the different-is-beautiful, inspiring-teacher tales work really well.
The cast is excellent, most notably Darsheel Safary, of course; as is the inherent danger with stories about small children facing big challenges, if he hadn't had such a careful touch, the movie would have been a trite, mawkish mess. Aamir too deserves credit for getting such a performance out of the story's little star - as well as for acting with him so effectively. I found all the characters to be written interestingly and performed with heart, especially Ishaan's family and especially especially his relationship with his older brother. The animation, unlike anything I've seen in an Indian movie so far, is charming and evocative and perfectly integrated to show us Ishaan's mind and ways of communicating. I'm not nuts about the soundtrack, but it's way better in the movie than it was when I listened to it on its own last week. (And oh how I blubbed during "Maa" - and that was just the first of at least three times that I cried.) Overall the movie creates several different worlds and manages to interconnect them, to get the inhabitants to understand one another. It's very sweet and moving, raises important questions about life in the lock-step competitive culture, and is a non-stupid movie for viewers of any age. I hope everyone who sees it can act on its lessons.
Let's just say this: I took my parents to see it, and even my dad, male child of the 50s that he is, said "that was a two-hankie movie we had there!" in an admiring sort of tone. My parents are both teachers and have dealt with dozens of students with less than ideal educational backgrounds, and I wonder if that had something to do with how much they liked it. It certainly made me very grateful and pleased that I spend my work days involved with learning and outreach and encouraging people to try to discover and understand others.
Aside #1: I don't know if that story Aamir's character told about Solomon Islanders felling trees through negativity is true, but even if it isn't, wow, that's a good thing to keep in mind, you know? How often does each of us weaken the roots of another person or otherwise add to the conditions in which they can wither and fall? What a harsh, important thing to remember in how we treat other people.
Aside #2: Aamir, yaar, this was a very fine movie (I don't have a firm grasp on what a film director does, exactly, but there wasn't anything here that I didn't like, so great job!), but what is with the fauxhawk? Is the character just so so unconventional that he could only be expressed through your hair?