An American Girl: McKenna Shoots for the Stars Movie Poster Image

An American Girl: McKenna Shoots for the Stars

Sweet, inspiring tale about a girl reaching for her dreams.
Parents recommendPopular with kids
  • Rated: NR
  • Genre: Family and Kids
  • Release Year: 2012
  • Running Time: 94 minutes

What parents need to know

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

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
Not applicable

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
Not applicable

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.

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."

Families can talk 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

DVD/Streaming release date:July 3, 2012
Cast:Ian Ziering, Jade Pettyjohn, Kerris Dorsey, Nia Vardalos
Director:Vince Marcello
Studio:Universal Studios Home Entertainment
Genre:Family and Kids
Topics:Sports and martial arts, Friendship, Great girl role models
Run time:94 minutes
MPAA rating:NR

This review of An American Girl: McKenna Shoots for the Stars was written by

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Parent of a 6 and 9 year old Written bybootsbearmom July 27, 2012

Good for the family

Both my 6 year old son and 9 year old daughter watched this. Compared to all the other movies these days with rude references and name calling, this was refreshingly clean. Kids can relate to the issues of pressure from parents as well as learning disabilities. Both my kids really enjoyed this and have already watched it again. The only down side would be if you follow gymnastics and have read the books - this is not about Level 4 beginning competitive gymnast but a high level athlete.
What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models
Kid, 9 years old August 25, 2012

Sweet movie

It's sweet, inspirational, and a good movie for all.
What other families should know
Educational value
Great messages
Great role models
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 american girl but you don't need to be to watch this movie!!! mckenna is a great girl inspiered by gymnastics and in the end loves Josie!! Again this is a great movie for all ages!
What other families should know
Educational value