An American Girl: McKenna Shoots for the Stars

Movie review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
An American Girl: McKenna Shoots for the Stars Movie Poster Image
Parents recommendPopular with kids
Sweet, inspiring tale about a girl reaching for her dreams.
  • NR
  • 2012
  • 94 minutes

Parents say

age 4+
Based on 6 reviews

Kids say

age 6+
Based on 15 reviews

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Not specifically educational, but kids will learn great social lessons and get some information about learning and physical disabilities, as well as gymnastics.

Positive Messages

Lots of positive messages about reaching for your dreams, communicating with your parents, being honest with your friends, and asking for help when you need it. Through hard work and perseverance, McKenna overcomes several physical, emotional, and academic obstacles in the movie. The fact that Josie is in a wheelchair teaches McKenna (and hopefully the audience) not to prejudge or pity those who are different. McKenna's friendship issues shine a light on the notion of unconditional friendship and not being ashamed of needing assistance sometimes.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Josie teaches McKenna not to give up on her reading and to tackle her comprehension issues with the same determination she handles gymnastics. McKenna encourages Josie not to let her disability keep her from reaching for her dreams -- like riding a horse. McKenna has loving parents, a caring coach, and an involved teacher, all of whom are integral in her meeting her goals.

Violence & Scariness

In one scene, a horse becomes agitated and begins to buck, which makes a nearby horse holding a wheelchair-bound girl start to move, making it seem like the horse is going to throw her off.

Sexy Stuff

The girls say "kick your butt" a couple of times, and McKenna is told to "have fun watching from the sidelines" in a hurtful manner.


The movie is part of the American Girl empire, which includes dolls and merchandise, as well as lots of books and DVDs.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this American Girl movie, McKenna Shoots for the Stars, is based on the doll company's Girl of the Year and offers girls (and boys) several positive messages about family, friendship, and the importance of getting help when you need it. Throughout her story, McKenna learns valuable lessons about what it takes to overcome unexpected hurdles, whether they're physical like a broken limb or emotional, like the embarrassment of needing a tutor to improve in language arts.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byPalindrome123 June 29, 2018

Surprisingly racist

The main character does a reading comprehension exercise about how it's "not healthy for children to live in India". There is no examination / d... Continue reading
Parent Written bytreat02 January 20, 2013

Very sweet movie

I let my 6-year-old and my 11-year-old watch this, and I watched it myself. It was a sweet story, and I think the girls enjoyed it too! There was nothing wrong... Continue reading
Kid, 9 years old August 16, 2012

Best movie ever!!!

I love american girl and I think that everybody who watches this (even adults!!) will be inspiered and get a great kick out of it!!! I'm big fan of america... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byCoolGirlClaire July 12, 2019

Awesome! Always been one of my favs!

This movie has been one of my favorite American girl movies, along with Chrissa. It has a great message, “there’s nothing wrong with needing a little help” whic... Continue reading

What's the story?

McKenna (Jade Pettyjohn) is a fourth-grade gymnast who loves nothing more than competing for her club's team with her best friend Toulane (Ysa Penarejo). But when her grades start to slip and she's caught looking around during a test, McKenna's teacher suggests that her parents (Nia Vardalos, Ian Ziering) enlist the help of a tutor, Josie (Kerris Dorsey). Just as things couldn't get any worse for McKenna, she falls and hurts herself during a competition, winding up in a cast for eight weeks. Unhappy with her tutoring and inability to prepare for a spot on the Olympic training team, McKenna acts sulky and defeated. Josie, who's in a wheelchair, shows McKenna that if she applies hers gymnastics-honed discipline and determination to her tutoring sessions, there's nothing she can't accomplish.

Is it any good?

AN AMERICAN GIRL: MCKENNA SHOOTS FOR THE STARS is a surprisingly sweet and empowering tale, particularly for young girls (regardless of whether they have an American Girl doll or not). Although McKenna's story provides many inspiring lessons, the movie isn't overly preachy or maudlin. There's a believable dramatic tension in all of McKenna's relationships, especially her growing rapport with Josie and her emotional disagreements with her BFF Toulane. Pettyjohn is a talented and expressive young actress, as is Josie, who's played with the same impressive nuance that Dorsey employed as Brad Pitt's daughter in Moneyball.

The only quibble with the movie's narrative is that it introduces Toulane's hyper-competitive and critical mother (Paula Rivera) but doesn't expand on that subplot until a couple of lines at the end of the film. Otherwise, this is exactly the kind of heartwarming movie that makes for a perfect sleepover or play date pick for tween girls. The movie's themes empower kids to see beyond the superficial and to recognize that there's nothing wrong with needing a little bit of help -- whether from your family, friends, or a tutor -- to better yourself and "shoot for the stars."

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the way the movie depicts McKenna's learning and Josie's physical disabilities. How can kids learn from the way McKenna and Josie handle their personal challenges?

  • How is Toulane's relationship with her mother different than McKenna's? What does McKenna's mom teach her about following your passion and asking for help when you need it?

  • Does McKenna Shoots for the Stars seem like a tie-in to the American Girl doll, or would it be good even without the American Girl in the title? Does the connection to the brand make you more likely to watch the movie?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love girl power

Themes & Topics

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