Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by
suggesting a diversity update.
American Girl: Lea to the Rescue
Suggest an Update
A Lot or a Little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that American Girl: Lea to the Rescue is an adventure movie based on the 2016 American Girl Doll of the Year. A departure from the previous American Girl films, which have been either historical in nature or gently resolved issue-oriented stories, this film finds heroic 10-year-old Lea Clark far from home trying to rescue her kidnapped older brother from a gang of dangerous animal poachers. The suspenseful tale takes place in Brazil, where Lea must overcome a series of perilous events. Disobeying her mom, Lea is pursued by criminals, confronted by tribesmen, lost in the jungle, and repeatedly put in physical danger (falls, capture, the close presence of exotic wild animals). She shimmies up trees, crosses a river, and proves to be athletic and mostly effective. As in the other movies in the series, there are certainly positive messages (respect for other cultures, surprising friendships, accepting life's continuing changes), but those take a back seat to the movie's overall tone, which is one of mystery, adventure, and danger.
My kids absolutely love animals, conservation, and we've generally liked American Girl; heck, I grew up loving their historical stuff, and still do, so with all of that factored in, this seemed like it might be a real hit for the kids and I to enjoy together. We rented it.
I'm kinda glad we didn't buy it. Okay, for the positive: I do like seeing a strong, loving bond between siblings. That's definetly there. You see Lea applying herself at school projects; that's nice. I do appreciate the notions that poaching is bad, police are good helpers to seek when in need, conservation of the world's natural places, peoples, and animals are important, and elements such as that. The kids enjoyed glimpsing favorite animals, and there was a respectful look into an indigenous tribe, and a positive, respectful bond formed there. Most adults are portrayed as caring and well-meaning (bad guys aside).
HOWEVER, some elements that aren't so good really take a lot away. This movie does display earnest, hard-trying adults (good!), but like a lot of kid media these days, unfortunately the lesson kinda stands that if you (a kid) has a differing idea about how to solve a problem and don't think the grown-ups are doing it right, well, you should argue and buck and do it your way anyway if you want the day saved, even if it directly goes everything you've been instructed--screw rules, screw safety, screw common decorum, manners, or adult wisdom. Lea is consistently argumentative, and defiant to the the point of dragging her caretaker who unable to rein her in, and herself, into real danger. She can be (okay, usually is) temperamental and unkind, including towards her brother's very nice girlfriend right off the bat (and then for a good while thereafter), simply because she (Lea) was feeling possessive of her brother and feared the idea of the young lady being a natural factor that could put some geographic between them. It would have been refershing to see her model a sense of welcome and natural sisterhoodly bonding with the woman, who would've certianly deserved it. Thankfully, the adults weren't portrayed as total bumbling fools, but the message to kids was certianly clear enough that if you want the day saved faster and better, the grown-ups just aren't capable of pulling it off witbout the kids busting in breaking every rule along the way, sneaking around, and getting bossy to get things accomplished. this is getting to be a really exhausting plot point in kid media these days! Being a snit to adults and tearing down your lovingly and wisely set boundries isn't heroism in day-to-day life. If there were passing moments of that in this movie, it may would have been more forgivable. However, a LOT of the protagonist's self and most of the plot is tied up in exactly that--it's truly to such an extent that it shadows over a lot of the good elements. Kids love looking up to heros they can identify with. I just Lea was one that I could easily give a blessing to do so. She could've been kinder instead of persistently quick to huff and argue, and I'm sure they still could have written a storyline where she played the role of a hero to the cause without being defiant to sound wisdom and dangerous left and right to do it. This movie had a lot of potential and so many elements that could've made it a lovable hit (animals! Conservation! Respecting other cultures!), but the fact that the hero and the way she ticked was so very unsavory really pulled the whole story away from all the good it stood for to quite an extent. I wish Lea had been scripted as the type of kid I'd love to see my kids bring home as a friend and wholly, or at mostly respect easily. As is, I find myself hoping they wont be taking any cues from her, and as the story's hero, that doesn't speak well of the overall takeaway of this. Not everyone needs to be perfect, and that includes Lea, but this really missed the mark by reinforcing terrible behavior by branding it as saving the day.
In many American Girl movies, when a child does something wrong, it's gently plotted into a learning and growing point, often with loving help from adult role models and peers--good stuff! This one almost completly lacked that. There was a short dialouge at the end about needing to mind better, surely added to address some of these points, but it in no way resolved that it stood at the end of the day that ugly behavior created success. I really wanted to like this one and was expecting to enjoy it. I hate to admit that I find it more flawed than worthy of a nod.
Ten-year-old Lea Clark (Maggie Elizabeth Jones) can't help but be a little jealous of her older brother Zac's first important girlfriend in AMERICAN GIRL: LEA TO THE RESCUE. While working in a wildlife sanctuary in Brazil, Zac (Connor Dowds) met Paula (Laysla DeOliveira) and fell in love. Lea wonders anxiously, does that mean he's never going to come home for real? That bit of resentment turns to real fear when Zac disappears. Lea and her mother react quickly, setting off for Brazil together. Remembering that when he brought Paula home to meet them, Zac confided that he was concerned about "poachers" (thieves who steal wild animals and sell them), Lea is doubly frightened. Despite her mother's instructions to stay and wait in Paula's home, Lea takes matters into her own hands. She cajoles Paula into a nonstop adventure through the Amazon jungle and the streets of Manaus to track the poachers, find Zac, and save the animals.
Is It Any Good?
While this American Girl is an intrepid sleuth -- a go-getter who calls on her skills and smarts to win the day -- some weak acting, inept villains, and silly plotting undermine the result. Still, American Girl: Lea to the Rescue is a bright movie: Lea sparkles, Brazil is colorful and vibrant, and the animals are beautifully photographed. What's more, Lea uncovers a wonderful truth about her grandmother and spends quality time with Aki (Storm Reid), an adorable counterpart in a world far from her own. It's nice to see the American Girl people developing adventure stories for their characters. It will be even nicer when they get it just right.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about the character of Lea in American Girl: Lea to the Rescue. How is she different from most of the American Girls/dolls who've come before her? What skills does she have that surprised you?
How does the American Girl brand expand their product line and find new buyers by issuing a Doll of the Year? Why is it important to be aware of toy franchises' marketing strategies? How does your family handle the pressures of an ever-increasing amount of American Girl merchandise and films?
Lea was courageous and determined in her quest, but she disobeyed her mom in a big way. It worked for this story, but should there have been consequences for her behavior?
What did Lea learn about Brazil? Does this movie inspire you to find out more about that country? Where could you go to get more information about Brazil, its people, and the Amazon jungle?