An American Girl: Isabelle Dances into the Spotlight

Movie review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
An American Girl: Isabelle Dances into the Spotlight Movie Poster Image
Young dancer learns lessons in sweet live-action movie.
  • G
  • 2014
  • 100 minutes

Parents say

age 5+
Based on 3 reviews

Kids say

age 7+
Based on 7 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Educational Value

Kids will learn a bit about ballet, not only the technical terms for positions and choreography but also the story line of The Nutcracker. Viewers also will learn about the difficulties and challenges of professional dance. Various tourist attractions and landmarks in Washington, D.C., are discussed, such as the Smithsonian and Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens.

Positive Messages

The American Girl movies always have positive messages about working hard, committing yourself to your goals, and working with others to make your dreams come true. Isabelle has to overcome her self doubt and insecurity to dance the way she wants. Isabelle's story stresses how she needs to stop being jealous of her older sister and accept that all artists, no matter how perfect they might seem, also struggle with occasional feelings of inadequacy, but if an artist can rise above that feeling and do her best, her passion and talent will lead to art.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Isabelle is nervous and unsure of her abilities; she easily succumbs to stage fright instead of dancing with joy, no matter the audience. Later, Isabelle learns to trust herself and dance with more confidence and happiness. Isabelle's sister Jade is encouraging and helpful, even though Isabelle makes inaccurate assumptions about how "easy" dancing is for her. Isabelle and Jade's parents are great examples of people who are artistic and encourage passion and talent rather than pushing their kids and demanding they practice.

Violence & Scariness

Isabelle falls and hurts (or embarrasses) herself while dancing a few times.

Sexy Stuff

Insult language such as "jerk" and cruel language from a mean girl including "screwed up" and "loser."


The movie is part of the American Girl empire, which includes dolls and merchandise, as well as lots of books and DVDs. This one is specifically about the limited edition Girl of the Year Isabelle.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent Written byMrcooperdooper April 16, 2016

Great movie but a bit confusing.

This movie is great but it was slightly confusing for my 9 year old due to the fact Isabelle in the movie is supposed to be 9 and was played by a then 15 year o... Continue reading
Adult Written byMadoka K. April 14, 2017

Terrible Movie!

This movie was a snoozefest. A home movie could be better than this. The Girl of the Year's only problem was that she couldn't do a pirouette. If you... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byAbbyM2005 December 25, 2019

Good for girls 10 and under

I used to love this movie when it came out, I was 10 at the time. But re-watching it now, Erin Pitt was WAY too old to play Isabelle (a 9 year old) when she was... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byCoolGirlClaire July 12, 2019

Good, talented dancers

The movie was great despite a few things. Isabelle is always whining and getting mad about everything which is kind of annoying. The good thing about the movie... Continue reading

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?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love to dance

Themes & Topics

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