Underwater Dreams

Movie review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
Underwater Dreams Movie Poster Image
Inspiring story about an underdog high school robotics team.
  • NR
  • 2014
  • 85 minutes

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Positive Messages

The documentary explores the power of influential teachers who believe in their students and of the way that education is the way out of poverty. Curiosity and teamwork are major themes. And of course, the movie focuses on science and technology education and how it changed the lives of the featured students, some of whom never thought they'd amount to anything. The story also teaches young viewers about the importance of perseverance and how people with limited resources can work together to create something impressive. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

The two ROV club advisors were important influences on their students, encouraging them to see beyond their socioeconomic circumstances and to work hard, study hard, and reach for their dreams. Carl Hayden High School robotics team members inspired a younger generation of student engineers at their high school, and two of them went on to found a group for elementary school students. Another group became immigration activists, and one was even named one of Time's 100 Most Influential People. 


Occasional "s--t" or "bulls--t" used as an exclamation.


Tampax, OB, and other tampon companies are featured during a recreation of how the guys fixed a problem with their robot. The boys said they wanted to go to Hooters if they won.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Underwater Dreams is an inspiring documentary about how an underdog high school robotics team managed to take on M.I.T. and other college teams at a national competition in 2004. It's filled with positive messages about the importance of science and technology education, the power of engaging and caring teachers, and the value of perseverance and teamwork when faced with tough competition. Although there's an occasional "s--t" said in surprise, this is a documentary that mature kids will benefit from seeing. Parents with strong views on immigration should know that the film makes a strong case for the legalization of young undocumented immigrants.

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What's the story?

Director Mary Mazzio's documentary UNDERWATER DREAMS is the David vs. Goliath tale of how a low-income robotics team from Phoenix's Carl Hayden High School took on teams from renowned universities like M.I.T. in a national underwater robotics competition in 2004. The high school underdogs (all undocumented Mexican immigrants from a poor Phoenix neighborhood) outperform all possible expectations, inspiring 10 years' worth of students interested in engineering. The last third of the movie focuses on immigration reform and how Carl Hayden robotics alums are at the forefront of the issue.

Is it any good?

This documentary is a feel-good movie reminiscent of the spirit of Stand and Deliver and Lean on Me. Those movies, like this one, show how poor, disenfranchised students can flourish when they're encouraged and supported instead of demeaned and overlooked. Interviews with the original 2004 crew and their advisors reveal how the team entered the college division because failure against M.I.T. was more tolerable and understandable than failure against other high school teams. Mazzio spends a lot of time on the M.I.T. team and even digs into the personal lives of the two Carl Hayden team teachers, but it's the immigrant students who are the most fascinating. It's surprisingly emotional to see men in their 20s admit that, until high school, they had no idea they could make something of themselves in the world, that in a world of negative stereotypes and messages, their robotics instructors stand out as rare beacons of hope and encouragement.

A little more than halfway through the film, Underwater Dreams changes its focus from the 2004 robotics competition to how the outcome affected the Carl Hayden community of Latino students, many of whom are undocumented. Interviewing various renowned engineers and robotics entrepreneurs, including Dean Kamen, the creator of the Segway, Underwater Dreams makes a case for why these Carl Hayden alums deserve a chance at the American dream, regardless of their citizenship status.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Underwater Dreams' David vs. Goliath theme. Why is it so compelling to see an underdog win?

  • The movie is about more than the robotics competition. Were you surprised when the film switched into a tale about undocumented students? Do you agree with the film's stance on immigration?

  • What are some other documentaries or fictional tales about low-income students who exceed expectations and overcome obstacles? What are your favorites?

  • How does Underwater Dreams promote curiosity, perseverance, and teamwork? Why are these important character strengths?

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