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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Bumblebee is a Transformers universe prequel that's set in 1987 and stars Hailee Steinfeld as Charlie, a gearhead teen who finds a yellow VW Bug that's actually the titular Autobot. This tween-friendly adventure features slightly less violence, language, and sex (the romance is downplayed and positively chaste) than its predecessors. That said, there are still big fight scenes between Transformers and between Transformers and humans; weapons are used (one reduces humans to a clear goo), there's explosive destruction, and Bumblebee is tortured. Language includes a few uses of "damn" and "s--t"; refreshingly for the series, there are no crass or sexist jokes. Charlie is a surprisingly nuanced and courageous lead character, and the movie has clear themes of teamwork and friendship.
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What's the story?
BUMBLEBEE starts during a civil war on the Transformers' home planet of Cybertron, where Autobot resistance leader Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen) sends his young lieutenant, B-127 (Dylan O'Brien), on a mission to Earth to establish a base, protect the planet's inhabitants, and await their allies. But B-127 is followed by two Decepticons, who wound him and destroy his voice box. Later, in 1987 California, angsty Bay Area teen Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld) finds an old yellow Volkswagen Beetle while scouring a junk yard on her 18th birthday. Charlie, who's still grieving her late father, fixes the rusty old VW, which quickly transforms back into a robot alien that Charlie names Bumblebee. As Charlie befriends Bumblebee and introduces him to her neighbor, Memo (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.), two Decepticon enforcers land on Earth. Shatter (Angela Bassett) and Dropkick (Justin Theroux) convince government agents, including a reluctant John Cena and an awed John Ortiz, to collaborate in order to find the "dangerous" Bumblebee.
Is it any good?
The talented, expressive Steinfeld and a nuanced script elevate this prequel from "unnecessary" to "surprisingly poignant and entertaining." Comparisons between Bumblebee and E.T. are easy to draw, because Charlie nearly instantly connects with the voiceless, skittish alien. They bond over clips of '80s movies and music cassettes (he hilariously ejects The Smiths, one of her favorite, angsty bands, instead preferring radio jams that can speak for him). Charlie's sidekick is her adorkable neighbor, whom Lendeborg plays with sweet comedic sincerity. Their chemistry is cute, with only a hint of romance -- a much-needed change from the previous films.
Director Travis Knight, making his live-action debut and working from a script by Christina Hodson, helms the movie with a sensibility that mirrors the Laika films he's directed/produced (Kubo and The Boxtrolls): A lonely, grieving adolescent goes on an unexpected adventure, through which she learns about herself and her legacy. Knight might not have seemed like a natural fit for this live-action directing gig on the face of things, but it makes sense given his love of coming-of-age stories that feature particularly sensitive and brave young protagonists. Ultimately, there was no need for this prequel, but it's much better than expected, and the best (story wise) of the Transformers series to date.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the violence in Bumblebee. Is it more than, less than, or about what you expected? How does it compare to the violence in the other Transformers movies? What's the impact of media violence on kids?
What are the other differences between this film and the other Transformers movies? What did you like about this installment? Do you want there to be more?
- In theaters: December 21, 2018
- On DVD or streaming: April 2, 2019
- Cast: Hailee Steinfeld, Martin Short, Pamela Adlon
- Director: Travis Knight
- Studio: Paramount Pictures
- Genre: Action/Adventure
- Topics: Friendship, Robots
- Character strengths: Courage, Teamwork
- Run time: 113 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: sequences of sci-fi action violence
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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