By Emily Ashby,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Fantasy-action flick is best for video game-savvy tweens.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Four very different teens learn to look past their initial impressions of one another and form a friendship to accomplish a common goal. Although the movie uses stereotypes to group the characters into "nerds," "jocks," "rebels," and the like, its message underscores the ambiguity of these designations and reminds viewers that friendship can transcend them. Three teens use video games to escape the pressures of their lives, creating avatars that make them feel like heroes as a coping mechanism. The story touches on issues related to Internet safety by illustrating how the characters' anonymous online relationship can extend into the real world.
Positive Role Models
Each teen faces a stressful situation, whether at home or among his social peers, and instead of handling those issues in a constructive manner, he retreats into virtual reality and creates a new image. At first the characters let their negative impressions of one another influence their actions, but eventually they look past those and find common ground. The heroes willingly risk their lives to save the world, which is both selfless and an indicator of their taking responsibility for their actions. Adults are mostly absent, but one parent in particular holds her son to a strict code of behavior and doles out consequences when appropriate.
Violence & Scariness
Video game-style violence is present in both animated and live-action segments. Beatings, dismemberment, laser blasts, electric shock, fire, explosions, and stabbings are fair game. Most weapons are replicas of those the avatars use onscreen (so not something you'd find in the real world). Blood is minimal, but the teens emerge from the exchanges with some bumps and bruises. They do kill many of their monstrous attackers, who disintegrate into shards of light in standard gaming fashion.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Some nervous flirting among teens, which doesn't amount to anything. One virtual visitor is a leggy woman in a skimpy bikini who encourages people to "click" her, reminiscent of suggestive pop-up ads on the Internet.
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One instance of "hell." More common use of "sucks," "butt," and "freakin'," as well as prevalent name-calling like "dweeb," "freak," "geek," and "idiot."
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Products & Purchases
Brand icons like Chevrolet are visible in the context of the story.
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that there's a lot of violent content (punches, laser blasts, fire, explosions, stabbings) in this fantasy-action movie, but it's mostly blood-free, and the only deaths are the monsters who cross over from the virtual realm. The teen characters use online games to create alter egos that help them cope with family and social pressures, but they learn that self-acceptance and true friendship transcend the rush they get through their avatars. Instances of stereotyping, bullying, and peer pressure serve to illustrate the movie's pro-social themes of respect and seeing past appearances. This movie is best appreciated by those with some familiarity of gaming tactics and jargon (though non-gamers may be intrigued to try it out after watching).
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Where to Watch
Based on 2 parent reviews
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What's the Story?
Wyatt (Gaelan Connell), Dante (Connor del Rio), and Lyle (Jessie T. Usher) are classmates whose social paths rarely cross in school, but by way of their avatars, they spend their evenings teaming up against the evil Maldark and his host of minions in the online video game Conquerer of All Worlds. Though the game's element of anonymity keeps the guys an arm's length from one another in the real world, a freak accident that opens a portal and lets the game's characters into their town changes all that. Suddenly these three guys -- along with their nosy classmate, Angie (Aimee Carrero) -- must look past their first impressions and learn to work as a team to save the world from Maldark's (George Faughnan) nefarious plot of world domination.
Is It Any Good?
Thanks to modern animation, the visual effects are fairly impressive, even if the animated characters themselves are a bit cheesy. LEVEL UP is an action-filled adventure that reverses the standard relationship between reality and the virtual realm by transporting the game's villains into the players' real world. Since the story hinges on a battle over rights to the world, violence is a big factor in the plot, which makes it an iffy choice for young kids. What's more, if your kids aren't already immersed in the gaming world, they'll miss many of the inside jokes and jargon ("NPC," "expansion pack") that enhance the experience for viewers who are more in the know.
There are some positive qualities to the story that will resonate with tweens and please their parents. The very nature of the heroes' friendship challenges stereotypes and reminds viewers that first impressions are rarely a reliable basis for judgment of character. Although the story is hardly realistic, it's a good segue into discussions with your tweens about the nature of the Internet and the pitfalls of its anonymity. While you're at it, be sure to refresh your family's rules about online safety and talk to your kids about the importance of real-life relationships as opposed to those generated in the virtual world.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about heroes. How do you describe a hero? Who are some of your heroes? What qualities are important in one? What responsibilities do they have to those who admire them?
Tweens: What experience do you have with online games? Do your friends play? Which ones are favorites among your peers? Is there any benefit from games like the one in this movie?
How has the Internet changed the way we communicate and relate to other people? In what ways is modern-day communication an improvement on the past? Are there any drawbacks to this interconnectedness? Why must you have rules to keep you safe online?
- On DVD or streaming: May 1, 2012
- Cast: Connor del Rio, Gaelan Connell
- Studio: Cartoon Network
- Genre: Fantasy
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy
- Run time: 90 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Last updated: February 25, 2022
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