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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Alpha is an intense survival adventure about a prehistoric teen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) who forms the first human-canine bond with a wolf while trying to make it home. Expect significant, frequent peril to both the boy and the wolf, including cliff falls, animal attacks, lingering injuries, exposure, deprivation, and illness. Animals are killed out of necessity. Teens are beaten by adults as part of a rite of passage, but briefly and not viciously (the scene is actually out of focus). But there's no sex, language, or substance use, and the film has strong themes of courage, perseverance, and empathy.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
About 20,000 years ago in what is now Europe, young Cro-Magnon Keda (Kodi Smit-McPhee) goes on his first epic hunt with his chieftain father (Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson). After a terrible mishap forces the hunting party to leave the boy for dead, Keda must undertake the long, treacherous journey home alone. Along the way, he's first attacked by -- and then forms an alliance with -- a wolf he names Alpha. Keda and Alpha must overcome the elements, and other predators, to survive.
Is it any good?
This is a ripping good adventure yarn with memorable visuals and an original premise and feel. Alpha presents a plausible take on the origins of the human-canine bond -- but more importantly, it's an absorbing survival tale with an appealing main character and a wolf that everyone will root for. Albert Hughes, directing without his brother Allen for the first time, uses extensive CGI to create a prehistoric setting that's simultaneously familiar and unfamiliar, primal and fantastic. And McPhee is a remarkably sympathetic actor. As Keda, his courage and drive are entirely believable. Perhaps more importantly, so is his empathy -- you sees how this particular Cro-Magnon teen might have mercy on a wounded predator, then be receptive to allying with it. His performance is simple and grounded. You completely buy him speaking the film's invented language and enduring all the trials he faces with his wolf friend.
That said, authenticity isn't the key here. It's not a documentary; it's a boy-and-his-dog survival adventure, and it's plenty involving on that score. Jóhannesson, as the father, is also quite good. So are all the other humans, really. But Alpha is ultimately all about Keda and Alpha. Dog lovers will be all over this movie, and as long as younger viewers can handle the intensity of the peril, families will enjoy it too.
Talk to your kids about ...
Do you think the movie's idea of how humans and dogs formed their relationship is believable? Had you ever wondered about that?
The film takes place 20,000 years ago in Europe. Do the humans look as you'd expected? How accurate do you think that is?
- In theaters: August 17, 2018
- Cast: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Natassia Malthe, Leonor Varela
- Director: Albert Hughes
- Studios: Columbia Pictures, Sony Pictures Releasing
- Genre: Action/Adventure
- Topics: Friendship, History, Wild Animals
- Character Strengths: Courage, Empathy, Perseverance
- Run time: 96 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: some intense peril
- Awards/Honors: Common Sense Seal
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.