Can of Worms

Movie review by
Tracey Petherick, Common Sense Media
Can of Worms Movie Poster Image
Nerdy teens battle aliens in harmless Disney sci-fi fun.
  • NR
  • 1999
  • 90 minutes

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Kids say

age 12+
Based on 1 review

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Although the movie is intended to entertain rather than educate, working hard at school is celebrated.

Positive Messages

The importance of appreciating what you've got and understanding that life might not always be perfect is a strong theme. As is the concept of what it means to feel "at home." Positive messages also include the value of friendship and loyalty. The importance of teamwork is also celebrated, as well as the fact that everyone has different talents and you shouldn't be afraid to play to your strengths. Studying hard at school and being knowledgeable is seen as a good trait by some.

Positive Role Models

Mike and his friends are intelligent and hard-working, but despite the "nerdiness" they are also bright, warm, and funny. All the friends show loyalty and bravery. Katelyn is one of the popular kids but remains kind-hearted, genuine, and non-judgmental. She respects Mike and isn't bothered about his reputation as a nerd. Mom and dad are cheerful, enthusiastic, and proud of their kids -- though their over perkiness is sometimes played for laughs.

Violence & Scariness

Some of the animatronic alien creatures are a mix of amusing, repulsive, and creepy. The villain of the movie is sinister and threatening, launching their long tongue to try and capture the kids. When they morph into an alien there are mildly graphic effects and sounds. One character is abducted by the aliens, dragged by a long red tongue through a "stargate." Later, another character is attacked in the same way while their friends try desperately to save them. Some low-level bullying on the football pitch. A character sabotages a Halloween dance between two characters.

Sexy Stuff

An alien offers a human character "a great time" -- but in a friendly, non-sexual way.


Some hostile language including "jerk" and two instances of "shut up!"

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Can of Worms is a Disney kids' sci-fi comedy with mild peril, very little violence, and plenty of positive messages and role models. The animatronic alien creatures are mostly designed to be amusing, but one or two could bother younger children. The leader, Thoad (Brian Steele), in particular is sinister and intimidating with evil intentions and a long red tongue that he uses to capture children. The main characters are all likable nerds -- as well as an amusing dog called Barnabus (voiced by Malcolm McDowell) -- who display bravery, loyalty, and humor throughout. There are some instances of minor bullying between the kids, with language stretching as far as "jerk" and "shut up!" Themes include the value of friendship and teamwork while the main takeaway is the importance of appreciating what you've got.

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What's the story?

In CAN OF WORMS, teenager Mike Pillsbury (Michael Shulman) is a computer-science nerd who has never felt he belongs on Earth and has built a satellite dish to communicate with the galaxy. When his blossoming friendship with cheerleader Katelyn (Erika Christensen) is sabotaged by the school's football star he reaches out to outer space for help, which comes in the shape of a talking dog, Barnabus (voiced by Malcolm McDowell). It turns out his message has served to tell the universe that Earth has reached a certain level of technological prowess and no longer falls under the Intergalactic Protection of Primitive Life. Cue the arrival of lots of opportunistic alien creatures, including the evil Thoad (Brian Steele) -- an intergalactic poacher who is abducting all life forms until he finds a perfect specimen. Now it's down to Mike and his friends to save planet Earth and free all of Thoad's alien -- and human -- hostages.

Is it any good?

From the kitschy opening credits to the garish animatronic aliens, this feels like a cult 1980s movie -- despite being made by the Disney Channel in 1999. But once you get beyond the dated synthesizer music and rubbery puppets, you'll find an entertaining coming-of-age sci-fi yarn. It's a combination of typical high school angst -- failing at football, liking the popular girl -- and preposterous space fantasy. Even the laughable special effects just add to the fun.

The extra-terrestrials who aren't trying to abduct everyone are witty and amusing (an intergalactic lawyer who offers to help Mike sue planet Earth; alien media agents in a bidding war to get Mike on their books) while Barnabus the talking dog -- brilliantly voiced by McDowell -- brings a comedic gravitas to the chaos. The teenage cast does a good job of balancing nerdiness with charm, and Mike has a couple of great scenes that bring to mind the manic energy of Doc Brown in Back to the Future. In many ways the overall message here is "be careful what you wish for." But dig beneath the kitschy surface and Can of Worms is also a lesson in appreciating what you've got, even when you feel like you don't belong.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Can of Worms explores the theme of feeling as if you don't belong. Mike thinks he might be from outer space, but in what ways can people experience these feelings in real life? How can you help people feel a part of something?

  • Did you find any of the alien creatures scary? How to choose a scary movie for your kid.

  • Are Mike and his friends good role models? If so, in what way? What character strengths do they display? Can you think of a time when you've had to demonstrate such traits?

  • Talk to your kids about the special effects in the movie. Did they feel dated? How did they compare to movies made today?

Movie details

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For kids who love aliens

Character Strengths

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Themes & Topics

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