A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that young fans of Disney's ubiquitous Debby Ryan will clamor to see her in this movie, and their enthusiasm will be rewarded with a multitude of positive messages about self-confidence, taking risks, and standing up for what you believe in. The story is designed to make viewers align themselves with the painfully shy protagonist and against her social nemesis, whose nastiness brings issues like peer pressure and bullying to the forefront, but there are enough light moments to keep the overall tone manageable for most kids. Expect some flirting between teens and the development of a sweet romance, plus some butting of heads between high-schoolers and their power-hungry principal. But none of this is too much for the movie's intended tween audience, and it's the themes of empowerment and self-esteem that will stick.
What's the story?
No one who knows her would guess that introverted Tara Adams (Debby Ryan) moonlights as the opinionated host of a popular radio webcast that's taking her high school by storm. But when her show is picked up by a local station, the audience is in a frenzy to discover the real identity of RADIO REBEL. Keeping it under wraps is no easy task, what with fans camping out at the station to catch a glimpse of her, but Tara's secret must remain safe if she's to have the nerve to keep pushing her messages about self-expression and battling the status quo that keeps teens like her at the bottom of the social ladder. As her fan base grows and her influence starts to make a difference among her peers, Tara starts to come out of her shell around them ... but everything changes when Radio Rebel is nominated for prom queen, and the school principal cancels the dance to force Tara to reveal herself. Stepping into the spotlight would make her classmates happy, but will it hinder the progress she's made in conquering her own fears?
Is it any good?
There's a lot to like about what this movie has to say to kids. Positive messages out of the mouths of kids' favorite TV stars rarely fall on deaf ears, and Radio Rebel is no exception to Disney's practice of recycling its most familiar faces to promote worthwhile themes for its young audience. Ryan is her usual charming self in this funny, heartwarming story about conquering fears -- so much so that it's actually difficult at times to believe the shyness she portrays throughout much of the movie. But kids will take an immediate liking to her, and those who can identify with her plight of social anonymity will most appreciate the changes she tries to effect among her peers. Add to that a sugary-sweet developing romance and a surprising social alliance between former foes.
That said, it's worth noting that for all the good she does, Tara actually battles the bullying she experiences with a sort of peer pressure of her own. At her prompting, her classmates demonstrate their solidarity against the status quo and take a stand against an authority figure. Still, the outcome is predictably rosy, and kids probably won't associate this influence with the more common and less desirable type of peer pressure. And it does serve to remind viewers that with enough effort, everyone can help set into motion the changes they'd like to see in their own communities.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about peer pressure. Kids: Do you ever see peer pressure among your friends? How does it affect you? Is there such a thing as good peer pressure?
What are some of your biggest fears? How do they affect your quality of life? Have you ever tried to overcome them? How successful were you? How does it feel when you do conquer them?
How does anonymity make you free to say and do things you otherwise might not? What kinds of things would you like to say to people if you could do it anonymously? Do you think your words would have more or less impact if people knew who was behind them?
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