Rip Girls

Movie review by
Tracey Petherick, Common Sense Media
Rip Girls Movie Poster Image
Coming-of-age surf movie has good vibes, strong role models.
  • NR
  • 2000
  • 87 minutes

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Viewers will learn about Hawaiian culture. A whale watching festival features local people in traditional dress. Traditional Hawaiian dancing. A character tells ancient Hawaiian stories to enthralled children.

Positive Messages

Themes include having the courage to try new experiences, confidence to not just stand by and watch others, determination to do the right thing, even if it scares you. Respectful, caring relationships between teens and family members. Value of family and friends above money.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Sydney is a good, wholesome girl who initially seems timid but ultimately has guts and determination. Her friend Gia is feisty, supportive, unpretentious. Sydney's love interest, Kona, is genuinely charming and caring with no hidden agenda. Both Elizabeth (Sydney's stepmom) and Malia (Gia's mom) are great female role models -- strong and resilient, but also calm, caring, supportive.

Violence & Scariness

One scene in which a character is rescued from drowning and is left with a cut head, with some blood. A character goes missing, is assumed to be out surfing in dangerous conditions. Character found with bloody graze on shoulder. Reference to death of a parent. Some arguing between teens.

Sexy Stuff

A brief kiss between teens is gentle and chaste. 


Characters say there's a "bad smell, like dead fish," as a way of showing disrespect and anger toward another teen. An argument between teens results in someone being called a "stupid lovesick puppy."


A character is put under pressure by realtors to sell their plantation to make way for a new holiday resort.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults have glasses of sparkling cider for a toast and give one to a 13-year-old character, but they don't drink it.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Rip Girls is a warm-hearted Disney coming-of-age drama with valuable role models, several strong female characters, and positive themes. Lead character Sydney (Camilla Belle) seems unsure of herself but soon demonstrates that she has courage and determination with a slightly rebellious side that never risks undermining her good manners. Her teenage friends are mostly mature, supportive, and genuine, and a couple of moments of meanness are short-lived. Sydney's overprotective father, Ben (Dwier Brown), is more loving than domineering, while his wife, Elizabeth (Lauren Sinclair), eschews all stereotypes of the "wicked stepmother." The death of Sydney's mother over 10 years ago is handled sensitively. Themes include the value of trying new experiences and the importance of loyalty among friends. While there's nothing controversial or inappropriate for younger viewers, the tone and content would likely appeal more -- and be better suited -- to tweens and teens. For anyone unfamiliar with the term, it's worth noting that the word "Rip" in the title refers to ocean currents, and not the acronym for "rest in peace."

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What's the story?

RIP GIRLS tells the story of 13-year-old city girl Sydney (Camilla Belle), who is visiting Hawaii with her dad (Dwier Brown) and stepmom (Lauren Sinclair) after inheriting a plantation there. Discovering that planners want to knock down the historical estate and build a new resort, Sydney must decide if she wants to sell up. But while she's exploring the island, she makes new friends, learns to surf, and begins to uncover the story of her mom, who died there when Sydney was a baby. It soon becomes clear that selling the plantation will have repercussions for the whole community. As Sydney's relationship with her overprotective father is put to the test, she must decide what to do for the best, all the while trying not to let down her new friends. 

Is it any good?

Escapism for tweens, this coming-of-age drama is a worthy addition to Disney Channel's stable of TV movies. It features solid friendships, first love, parental angst, and a lush Hawaiian setting (although the movie was actually filmed in Australia, which seems a shame). Lead character Sydney is a fine role model: Relatable but driven, she's a rebel with a cause, defying her father in the most gentle, considerate way. In fact, there's a refreshing absence of stereotypes throughout: Her stepmom is kind and supportive; the boy she likes is charming but not cocky; and when she makes friends with the local surf crowd, there's no bitchiness, just a genuinely warm welcome. It also helps that the cool kids can actually hold their own on a surfboard, making for some fast and funky action shots.

Rip Girls is a movie about having the guts to try something new -- feeling the fear but doing it anyway. And on this occasion, Disney gets the tone just right. There are some poignant moments that verge on sentimentality (and a dreadful bit of stock footage of a whale). But overall it's unpretentious and entertaining, with likable characters and a solid plot. Not to mention the rocking soundtrack, lush scenery, cool surf action, and all-round good vibes.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the character of Sydney in Rip Girls. How does she demonstrate courage and perseverance? Why are those important character strengths? Is she a role model? Why? Can you think of other movies featuring strong female characters?

  • Discuss the relationship between Sydney and her father. Do you think he is overprotective? Should he give her more freedom? How can parents assess when their kids are ready for more independence?

  • Talk about the role of the stepmother in movies and TV shows. Why are stepmoms often depicted as difficult characters, or even "wicked"? What do you think of Sydney's stepmom in this movie? Is she a realistic character?

  • This movie shares some themes with Disney's 2016 animation Moana: the island setting, the young but capable lead character, the overprotective father. What similarities do you see? Do you think Moana and Sydney would get along in real life?

  • Discuss a time when you've had to make a big decision -- perhaps one that affects other people, like Sydney had to. Is it fair to give a child that much responsibility? What would you have done in Sydney's shoes?

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