Three kids go on a wild adventure and make an extra-terrestrial friend in this updated take on films like “E.T.” and “The Goonies.” It being 2014, that means that the found footage genre, pioneered in “The Blair Witch Project” and featured in adult thrillers like “Paranormal Activity” and “Cloverfield,” has permeated family film as well. What makes this intriguing is that its intended audience of digital natives, kids who played with iPads before they could talk, may just be better able to process the fragmented, jerky cinematography designed to appear as though it was shot by the kids in the story themselves, than any adult in the audience can imagine.
As it begins, an entire community is being shut down for a highway construction project and all of the families who live there have to leave. Three close friends, confident, talkative Tuck (rapper Brian “Astro” Bradley), shy techie Munch (Reese Hartwig), and sensitive Alex (Teo Halm)have received mysterious messages on their phones and they want to find out where it is coming from and what it means. Some guys from the construction project have some to the door offering to exchange new phone vouchers in exchange for the phones they say they have damaged with their drilling. But the boys realize that their phones are not broken. They are being contacted by someone or something who wants them to find him/her/it.
The trio is able to get away for one last night because their parents are too distracted by the move to notice what they are doing. They get on their bikes and bring along a movie camera and some “spy glasses” that surreptitiously take movies as well. The signal leads them to a tiny, owl-like robotic alien they call Echo, who needs their help to repair his ship so he can return home. But the “construction guys” are looking for Echo, too. Tuck, Munch, and Alex have to race against time and the men who want to capture Echo in a treasure hunt for the parts Echo needs.
There are no surprises in the storyline, but the likeable kids, cute alien, and novelty of the found footage approach makes this heartwarming story of four friends on a thrilling adventure a good choice for a family outing. Echo does not speak; he/she/it just beeps, which means the kids have to do the talking, and that keeps the focus on what they are learning as they try to understand and take on the responsibility of helping someone in a meaningful way for the first time.
Those not accustomed to the mosaic style of “found footage” films may find it disorienting, but the sense of adventure and the strength of the friendships is palpable throughout, and kids and their families will enjoy being along for the ride.
Parents should know that this film has sci-fi action and peril, some schoolyard language, 0underage drinking and drunkenness and references to tween kissing.
Family discussion: Why did the kids feel “invisible?” What questions would you ask Echo? What did Tuck learn about Alex? Why did Tuck lie about Emma?
If you like this, try: “E.T,” “The Goonies,” “Super 8,” and “The Last Mimzy”