A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that An American Girl: Isabelle Dances into the Spotlight is the live-action film about 2014's American Girl of the Year. The movie focuses on the titular Isabelle, a talented but insecure young dancer who worries that she's not as good as her peers or her older sister. Although the dolls are beloved by even toddlers, the movie is best reserved for kids already in elementary school and mature enough for a full-length live-action story. Throughout the movie, Isabelle learns about overcoming obstacles including stage fright, nerves, jealousy, and fear. She works hard, accepts help, and learns a lot not only about herself but also her family and the joy of dancing.
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What's the story?
AN AMERICAN GIRL: ISABELLE DANCES INTO THE SPOTLIGHT follows Isabelle Palmer (Erin Pitt), a 10-year-old ballerina who attends a prestigious school of the performing arts in Washington, D.C., along with her older sister, Jade (Grace Davidson). Unlike big sis Jade, who is considered one of the school's most talented dancers, Isabelle, who had to try out a few times before being accepted, is self-conscious and insecure about her ballet skills. When the local professional ballet company invites the school's dancers to audition for their production of The Nutcracker, Isabelle is worried she won't land a role, especially since her favorite prima ballerina is the Sugar Plum Fairy and personally encouraged her to audition. Even after Isabelle secures a spot (her sister is Clara, of course), she struggles with the choreography and generally has trouble not comparing herself to her seemingly perfect sister.
Is it any good?
American Girl and director Laurence Yep know what they're doing with these Girl of the Year films. They're all surprisingly well made, written, and performed -- even if the protagonists tend to be a little whiny at times as they're painting and tumbling and, in this case, dancing their hearts out with quiet strength and discipline. Isabelle isn't always the most likable character (there's the aforementioned whining and self-pitying and general self-absorption that makes it hard for her to empathize with Jade), but she's also ridiculously sweet and well-intentioned, and, as she's the movie's obvious underdog, it's impossible not to cheer her on as she tries to perfect all those pirouettes.
Melora Hardin plays Jade and Isabelle's patient, loving, and artistic mom, who never once comes across as a demanding "dance mom" -- she's just super supportive of her two talented girls. Fans of ballet and The Nutcracker in particular will love seeing all the bunheads in action -- and they'll love Isabelle finally realizing she can do it after all. There's even a little bit of High School Musical, as the kids at the Anna Hart School jam together during lunchtime (parents will be reminded of Fame, but this film is aimed at much younger kids). If you're a fan of the dolls or just the movies, Isabelle is another sweet and empowering American Girl story that encourages girls to believe in themselves and reach for their dreams.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about what the American Girl movies have in common and what makes these movies so compelling to their target audience of young girls. Compare this one to the other American Girl movies.
Does the movie seem like a long commercial tie-in to the American Girl doll, or would it be entertaining even without "American Girl" in the title? Does the connection to the brand make you more likely to watch the movie?
Would you consider Isabelle and Jade an example of sisters with a healthy relationship? What makes Jade a good older sister? Are their problems realistic?
- On DVD or streaming: July 22, 2014
- Cast: Erin Pitt, Melora Hardin, Daniel Fathers
- Director: Vince Marcello
- Studio: Universal Studios Home Entertainment
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Arts and Dance, Brothers and Sisters, Friendship
- Run time: 100 minutes
- MPAA rating: G
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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