A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
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.
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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?
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.