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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.
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What's the story?
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?
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?
- On DVD or streaming: June 14, 2016
- Cast: Maggie Elizabeth Jones, Laysla DeOliveira, Storm Reid
- Director: Nadia Tass
- Studio: Universal Pictures
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Adventures, Book Characters, Friendship, Wild Animals
- Character strengths: Courage, Curiosity, Perseverance, Teamwork
- Run time: 98 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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