Axel: The Biggest Little Hero

Movie review by
Renee Schonfeld, Common Sense Media
Axel: The Biggest Little Hero Movie Poster Image
Entertaining and inventive adventure; some scary villains.
  • PG
  • 2014
  • 80 minutes

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Meant to entertain, not educate.

Positive Messages

Central message: Nothing is impossible. Believing in a cause and taking action are essential. The film defines heroism and adds that a true hero thinks of others, not only him- or herself. Sometimes no one will realize who the hero is, except the hero him- or herself. When making decisions, listen to your heart.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Axel, who pretends to be a hero at the film's opening, becomes a hero. He learns to be brave, strong, enterprising, and unselfish. The sole female character is self-confident, unafraid, and capable and initiates much of the action (sometimes to a fault).  

Violence & Scariness

Cartoon action throughout. The heroes face fire, fall from high precipices, and get hit by landslides, an onslaught of flying rocks, and a sandstorm. They plummet and are captured, smashed, buried, and knocked out. The scariest visuals are of huge armies of metal lizards on the move to attack. Close-ups show the lizards' ferocious expressions, teeth, and claws. Their mammoth leader, the Lizard King (a Transformer-like creature), has a reverberating, threatening voice and menaces the heroes. He is a fierce enemy who fights with tremendous strength.  

Sexy Stuff
Language

Some name-calling and insults: "bossy butt," "move your lousy hides," "bonehead," "bratty kids," "weirdo." There's one brief reference to "boobs" and one mention of peeing. A featured character's dynamic farts affect the action. 

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this inventive animated film is loaded with humor, positive messages, and cartoon violence. It's best for young viewers who have a clear understanding of real versus make-believe. Endearing heroic characters face formidable enemies, including a massive army of robotic lizards, which might be scary for some kids. The natural surroundings of their "distant planet" also provide some danger and include a sandstorm, flying rocks, and crumbling mountains. Still, this is a family-friendly movie with lots to say about the nature of heroism, teamwork, and striving to achieve goals. There's some teasing and name-calling ("bossy butt," "bonehead"), and a character's farts are highlighted. Axel: The Biggest Little Hero is the English-language version of a Chinese production and is the first entry in what is designed as a trilogy, so although immediate events are resolved, the ongoing quest continues.   

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What's the story?

In AXEL: THE BIGGEST LITTLE HERO, somewhere on a distant planet young Axel (voiced by Yuri Lowenthal) is the community prankster, and he's certain that he's destined to be a hero. Opportunity knocks when Axel realizes his hometown is facing a famine; the supply of his community's primary food from the Bonta cactus is threateningly low. Believing he has spotted a new source of the cactus far across the desert, and guided by the voice of the legendary hero Bonta himself (Ed Asner), Axel determines to save his town: He will make his way across his world to find the Bonta forest. Against his better judgment, he lets his more timid best friend Jono (voiced by Colleen O'Shaugnessey) join him. The two soon meet with a giant robot ostrich who will provide their "transportation." But the quest is a dangerous one. Along the way, the trio encounters natural disasters and menacing enemies. Allies appear, as well: A kingdom of charismatic "Guardians," headed by Papa Qi (the voice of Tim Curry) and his super-confident daughter, Princess Gaga, both hinder and help the heroes. In a final battle for survival, Axel and company must take on a giant Lizard King and his vast army of robotic lizard soldiers. Can they overcome this enemy and continue their odyssey to save their world?

Is it any good?

A traditional odyssey story is made new again, with creative characters, inventive animation, and humor. Doubtless the PG rating is due to the creepy, crawly army of lizards who appear frequently to remind of the impending danger to the heroes and the Transformer-like king of those lizards. Some viewers may find it a bit of a cheat when the primary story elements are unresolved by the film's end. They'll have to be content with waiting for the two planned sequels. But Axel and Jono are engaging; their relationship is fresh; and the subsidiary characters are original as well. An emphasis on personal growth, confidence, and faith in one's abilities gives the film some added heft.  

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what it means to be a hero. Who are the real heroes in your life? What makes them heroes?

  • Can someone ever be too brave? Which character might be too brave in this film? Why?

  • Were you disappointed because important things were not resolved at the end of this movie? Do you want to see the rest of Axel's journey? Do you think the filmmakers are counting on that?

Movie details

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