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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Carmen Sandiego: To Steal or Not to Steal is an interactive special in which viewers help choose the direction of the story at key moments by clicking on one of two choices on the screen. It is an engaging feature that encourages kids to follow the plot closely, but some of the plot developments double back to the same juncture in the story, and a holographic character urges the watcher to reconsider the previous choice, which contradicts the sense that the viewers are in charge. The V.I.L.E. villains are a mostly comical bunch, but they do use kidnapped victims to force Carmen's hand, and she steals at their demand. Parents can follow up to help explain Carmen's actions and the reasons behind them to put them in perspective kids will understand. As in the TV series, this story introduces viewers to a handful of geographical locations of historical significance.
What's the story?
In CARMEN SANDIEGO: TO STEAL OR NOT TO STEAL, the world's best thief faces a dilemma when her former V.I.L.E. instructors kidnap her friends Zack (Michael Hawley) and Ivy (Abby Trott) and force Carmen (Gina Rodriguez) to steal artifacts to secure their release. But deciding whether or not to do their bidding is just the first of many tough choices Carmen faces in her high-stakes quest to save her friends, and she needs viewers' help to make those decisions at critical points in the story. As her fates change with each selection, viewers are taken on a globe-trotting escapade with stops in several famous locations.
Is it any good?
This choose-your-own-adventure-style special puts the audience in the driver's seat ... in a sense. Carmen pauses at various junctures in the story to wait for direction from the viewer, and if no selection is made before the scene times out, a default pick proceeds. But several of the options play out their respective scenarios briefly before redirecting the viewer back to that same moment in the story to make the opposite choice, which feels disappointing and a bit anticlimactic.
Carmen herself continues to be a conundrum of sorts: a thief who does the wrong thing for the right reasons. In Carmen Sandiego: To Steal or Not to Steal, the confusion is even greater as she's stealing for the bad guys -- instead of in an effort to thwart their schemes -- albeit for the good cause of saving her friends. But regardless of her motivation, her capers consistently entertain young fans and expose them to simple geographical concepts and specific places of historical importance.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about whether doing the wrong thing can ever be justified by the circumstances. Does Carmen make the right choice to do illegal things to save her friends in Carmen Sandiego: To Steal or Not to Steal? Would you do the same in her shoes?
What examples of resilience and perseverance stand out in this story? Why are those qualities important to a hero or heroine? In what ways do you see these strengths displayed in people you encounter in your daily life?
Does this movie's interactive feature work well? Were your choices ever overridden by the episode bringing you back to the same spot and asking you to pick another way? What story direction would you like to have seen explored more fully?
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