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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Troop Zero is an unconventional comedy in which a familiar underdog story turns out fresh and original. Set in 1977 Georgia, it follows young Christmas Flint (McKenna Grace), a quirky, space-loving girl who's coping with the death of her mom just as the United States is preparing to launch two Voyager spacecraft carrying records of sounds of life on Earth. Her efforts to become part of the project -- assisted by a ragtag gang of other kids she enlists, including a gender-nonconforming boy -- are both funny and affecting. Expect occasional swearing ("ass," "damn," "hell," "s--t") and bullying insults ("half-ass," "freak," "girl-boy," "bed-wetter"). A character vomits; there's also unintentional pants-wetting and a fart. Some tussling occurs: pushing, a punch, a fall, a food fight, and mean girls' intimidation. A scout leader smokes and adults drink beer but doesn't get drunk. Some mean-girl and Southern exaggerations/stereotypes.
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What's the story?
Christmas Flint (McKenna Grace) is enamored with the cosmos as TROOP ZERO launches. It's 1977 -- the spacecraft Voyagers I and II have announced that they'll be recording voices and sounds of Earth for a "Golden Record" to be taken on their next exploration. The spectacular news for Christmas is that at the next Birdie Scout Jamboree, a winning troop will be selected for inclusion on that record. How amazing would it be if her recently-deceased mom, whom she believes is out among the stars, could hear her voice and connect with her? Of course, Christmas, an outsider among her peers, isn't a Birdie Scout. The troop in her economically-eclectic neighborhood, headed by the prim and proper Miss Massey (Allison Janney), turns her down, but the determined girl refuses to give up. She enlists a team of other outsiders -- a spunky girl and her physically-dominating sidekick; a devout Christian with one eye; and a boy whose gender is evolving -- and creates a troop of her own. Christmas coerces her lawyer dad's assistant, the uncompromising Miss Rayleen (Viola Davis), to be their "scout mother," and the troop is established -- and derisively named Troop Zero by the Birdie Scout establishment. All the kids have to do now is earn the necessary badges, wow the judges at the jamboree, and win!
Is it any good?
An endearingly-gifted young leading lady, sparkling supporting performances, and a devilishly irreverent take on the underdog story make this period movie funny, surprising, and notably current. McKenna Grace's Christmas Flint is an unforgettable character, and she's surrounded by a group of young actors who seem remarkably at ease as they inhabit their eccentric roles. Jim Gaffigan is wonderful as Christmas's beleaguered widowed dad, and Viola Davis and Allison Janney make terrific sparring partners. Co-directors Bert & Bertie, working from a script by Lucy Alibar, have succeeded in making a family movie with just enough grit -- it's mostly wholesome but it has its moments -- to make it special. Troop Zero first appeared in the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how often a dead parent is part of the storyline in films made for kids and families. How does that element immediately help identify the emotional place in which we find a character? How does it help set up the relationship with the character's surviving parent? How did Christmas' hopes to connect with her recently departed mom drive the story in Troop Zero?
How did the filmmakers make the movie, set in the '70s, very contemporary? What issues did they explore? What was the tone of the movie?
Why do you think the filmmakers chose David Bowie's music for this movie? How did the songs contribute to both the story and energy of the film?
Find out more about the space program's "Golden Record" project. Did you enjoy seeing the actual footage during the end credits of the movie? Did it make the story more real and relevant?
- On DVD or streaming: January 17, 2020
- Cast: McKenna Grace, Viola Davis, Jim Gaffigan, Allison Janney
- Director: Bert & Bertie
- Studio: Amazon
- Genre: Comedy
- Topics: Adventures, Friendship, Great Girl Role Models, Misfits and Underdogs
- Character strengths: Compassion, Courage, Perseverance, Teamwork
- Run time: 94 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: thematic elements, language and smoking throughout
- Last updated: June 22, 2020
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