A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Scales: Mermaids Are Real is a live-action coming-of-age story about a nearly 12-year-old girl who finds out she's a mermaid whose abilities to transform will kick in on her birthday. The story is family-friendly overall, but viewers will see a kidnapping, threats, and weapons (belonging to mermaid hunters). Children taunt a new schoolmate who has a disability. The villains are slightly creepy, but the only death happens when a mermaid kills a man by turning him into nothing but a puddle of water. Language is limited to "weird," "stupid," "sucks," "crazy," etc., and there's a little bit of innocent flirting between tweens. With its predictable, easy-to-follow plot line, the movie may appeal to kids and tweens but doesn't have much to offer adults or teens.
What's the story?
In SCALES: MERMAIDS ARE REAL, 11-year-old Siren (Emmy Perry) lives a fairly content life in a town near the ocean. She's an orphan, but her adoptive mom, Tiffany (Elisabeth Rohm), was her biological mother's best friend, and they get along beautifully. Middle school has its ups and downs, especially now that Siren has had to stand up for the sweet new kid, Adam (Jack Grazer), who has a disability (brittle bone disease). Then things start to get weird in science class when it seems the water in a beaker is moving toward her of its own will. After Siren starts to exhibit an odd, overwhelming pull toward water, Tiffany, as well as Siren's best friend, Crystal (Nikki Hahn), and Crystal's mom, Quinn (Kimberly Hidalgo), reveal that Siren is, in fact, a "half-breed" mermaid, and that the town is full of them (Tiffany isn't one of them). Siren's powers of transformation (gills, tail, a need to be in the ocean for three years at a time) will come when she turns 12, which will happen in just a couple of weeks. As Siren adapts to this staggering new information, she discovers that Adam's father is part of a group of "mermaid hunters" who want to capture the sea creatures for their blood, which can supposedly heal the sick.
Is it any good?
Although it has a tween-friendly, easy-to-follow plot, this mermaid adventure also has some weak performances that make it difficult to invest in the story. Aside from Rohm, who has all too frequently been typecast as a burdened mom, and Morgan Fairchild, who's best known for her TV work in the '80s and early '90s, the cast isn't particularly memorable. Perry's delivery, along with that of several of the adult supporting characters, is stiff and overdone, making Scales seem less polished than a Nickelodeon or Disney TV movie.
If this and the Weiner Dog franchise are any indication, writer-director Kevan Peterson specializes in the kind of family fare that kids might enjoy but parents will want to skip. There's nothing particularly joyful or compelling about this mermaid story, and the low-budget magical aspects are corny and eye-rolling (is receiving a sparkly bikini top really the highlight of mermaid "perks"?). Scales includes a rather uninspired romance between Siren and Adam, who calls her "pretty" so often that it's almost creepy. Their friendship starts off sweet, with Siren keeping his bullies at bay, but the puppy love is unnecessary, considering they're just 11-12 and new acquaintances. While this movie could appeal to tweens who are interested in mermaid tales, there are far better films in the magical sea-creatures genre.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Scales: Mermaids Are Real's emphasis on sisterhood and how fellow female mermaids help and protect one another. Do you think the movie offers a positive representation of girls and women? Which characters are role models?
Why do you think stories about mermaids and magic are so popular with kids? How does Scales compare to other mermaid-themed films?
Talk about the movie's messages regarding puberty and growing up. Do you agree that those changes can make adolescents feel unsettled and moody (even when they're not transforming into mermaids)?
Were any parts of the movie scary to you? How much scary stuff can kids handle?
How does the movie handle bullying? Kids: Have you experienced anything like that in real life?
- In theaters: July 21, 2017
- On DVD or streaming: August 22, 2017
- Cast: Elisabeth Rohm, Emmy Perry, Morgan Fairchild
- Director: Kevan Peterson
- Studio: Vertical Entertainment
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Friendship, Ocean Creatures
- Run time: 92 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: some mild peril and thematic elements
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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.