A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Earth to Echo is a family-friendly alien adventure that's reminiscent of E.T., The Goonies, and other films featuring preteens who ultimately save the day. There's some mild violence (against the adorable alien), peril, and the threat of violence, but the main characters remain unscathed, and the villains aren't overtly scary. One guy makes a suggestive joke that may go over younger kids' head, and the boys occasionally make comments about "hot" girls (one lies about kissing the most popular girl in the class), but overall there's little romance. The young leads get into some iffy situations (they go to a bar and a high school party, etc.) and lie to their parents, but they're unconditional friends to one another and selflessly commit to helping their extra-terrestrial discovery. Note: The film's found-footage shooting style results in some jumpy, jerky visuals that may be physically difficult for some viewers to sit through.
What's the story?
EARTH TO ECHO starts off as a video diary about the last day that three best friends/neighbors spend in their suburban Nevada development, which is being destroyed to make room for a new freeway. When camera-loving Tuck (Brian "Astro" Bradley) and his two closest pals, foster kid Alex (Teo Halm) and nerdy introvert Munch (Reese Hartwig), notice that everyone in the neighborhood's cell phones are all showing strange shapes, they decide to investigate. They pretend to sleep at one another's houses and head out on bikes to a nearby desert that looks just like the shape on their phones. In the middle of nowhere Nevada, the kids find nothing but a dusty metal capsule that they think is nothing -- but still take with them. Then, on their ride back home, Munch feels the backpack moving and freaks out. Some digging into the capsule reveals a tiny neon-blue-eyed alien who's communicating with their phones by delivering maps to the locations of his missing metallic parts. The boys name the alien "Echo" because he can imitate their sounds with little beeps, and together they embark on an all-night adventure to help Echo find his spaceship.
Is it any good?
Let's just start with the obvious: It could easily be claimed that Earth to Echo is imitating at least half a dozen kid-led adventures, but in this case, it really doesn't matter. Almost every movie is somewhat or even blatantly derivative, and at least this family film is so earnest that the copy-catting can be forgiven. Director Dave Green's first theatrical film probably isn't going to transcend the decades as a grand cinematic touchstone like Steven Spielberg's E.T., but it is cleverly poised to speak to today's crop of screen-obsessed preteens who text, chat, upload videos, and follow Google maps wherever it says to go. The three boys would literally not be able to complete their adventure without their phones and the Internet, and kids 8 to 12 get what that's like in a way parents likely never will.
Bradley, Halm, and Hartwig aren't super-slick Disney-fied actors. They're a bit rough around the edges, and that works in the movie's favor. Each is a different "type" with their own sensitivity and charm, and it's clear why Halm, the foster kid who has finally found a family he seems to fit in with, identifies so strongly with little Echo, who's scared and just wants to go home. The 89-minute runtime doesn't allow for a lingering explanation of Echo's home planet or even of a satisfying set of villains, but that just makes the story appropriate for slightly younger viewers who are just getting ready for live-action frights. Like the best movies in this genre, Earth to Echo is about friendship and banding together and knowing that kids may not have the same power as adults, but they can see things that adults can't.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how Earth to Echo portrays the use of technology. How are the kids connected to social media and one another? Is this an accurate description of the way kids use technology?
For those familiar with other alien and adventure movies -- how is this an obvious homage to films like E.T., The Goonies, or even Stand by Me?
Do you think there are enough live-action movies aimed at preteens? Is the amount of violence and romance appropriate?
- In theaters: July 2, 2014
- On DVD or streaming: October 21, 2014
- Cast: Teo Halm, Astro, Jason Gray-Stanford
- Director: Dave Green
- Studio: Relativity Media
- Genre: Science Fiction
- Topics: Adventures, Friendship, Space and Aliens
- Run time: 91 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: some action and peril, and mild language
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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.