“Earth to Echo” is something new, a found footage film for kids, but also a throwback to the kind of 1980s sci-fi adventures made popular by Spielberg and his pal ET.
Tuck (Brian “Astro” Bradley), Munch (Reese C. Hartwig) and Alex (Teo Halm) are BFFs, inseparable preteens who are about to have their lives upended. Construction of a new highway is scheduled to flatten their Nevada neighborhood and we meet them on the eve of their last day together.
Before they can schedule their final sleepover, however, strange things start happening—their iPhones start “barfing up” weird images of maps on their screens. Perplexed, they set out on an adventure to see where these strange phone signals will lead them. Their journey takes them to the desert where they find some sort of space gizmo—not a robot but an injured life form from above—that resembles a cute intergalactic baby owl.
Lost and alone, the creature, named Echo for his habit of responding with mechanical beeps to the boy’s speech, needs the kid’s help to find his spaceship and get back home. With the help of Emma (Ella Wahlestedt), a resourceful classmate, they spend their last night helping Echo and trying to piece together the connection between the highway construction and the mysterious goings-on in their neighborhood.
I suppose the found footage gimmick is meant to add intensity to the story, or be a novel promotional tool for the movie, but in the execution, mostly just leaves the viewer feeling seasick. The gimmick doesn’t add much to the storytelling, except the standard found footage explanation of how and why they’re going to manage to document everything that’s going to happen that night. (In case you’re curious these children have spyglasses, camcorders and GoPro portable cameras.) Next time out I’d prefer a locked down camera on a tripod and less teaching for the Gravol.
Stylistic choices aside, “Earth to Echo” is amiable but not terribly exciting. It has a distinct direct-to-video vibe, despite at least one eye-popping sequence of a truck being dismantled and reassembled. Story wise it plays it safe, to the point of being bland, without any of the grit that made kid’s adventures like “Goonies” and ”Gremlins” so much fun.
Synopsis: After enjoying big Easter and Passover meals, the Reel Guys like to treat the family to a good movie. Because there are as many different kinds of family movies as there are colours on the most psychedelic Ukrainian Easter egg, this week the guys have a look at their favourites. From the big screen to rentals for the small screen they choose movies that will put an extra hop in your step this weekend.
Richard: Mark, if you’re planning to take the kids out to the movies this weekend, there are two recent family flicks that deserve to be seen on the big screen. The Lego Movie is possibly the weirdest, most psychedelic kid’s entertainment since H.R. Pufnstuf, but it is also one of the best films of the year so far, kid’s movie or not. Then there is Mr. Peabody & Sherman, a big animated film inspired by a time travelling segment from the TV show Rocky and His Friends. It’s the only kid’s movie with an Oedipal joke and the kind of children’s movie that I think parents and kids will enjoy, but probably for completely different reasons.
Mark: Richard, so far The Lego Movie is the most exciting movie of the year, family or otherwise, but it should be noted that it, too, has a strong Oedipal theme in it. As a father of a three-year-old, I’m never quite sure what family entertainment means; what’s appropriate for my little boy is different than what might entertain an eight-year-old. Pretty much anything animated works for all ages, but then it gets complicated. And gender plays a role in choosing the right flick, too. Young girls love The Wizard of Oz, but young boys, not so much. But you never know. My little one loves Frozen, just out on DVD, even though it might seem “girly” to some.
RC: People love Frozen. I’m not one of them, but there is no arguing with the success of that movie. I’m more on side with Despicable Me II, which I thought was great fun despite its predictable plot. The story of chrome-domed former bad guy Gru’s (Steve Carell) working with the Anti-Villain League could have written itself, but the inventive gags contained within are the reason the whole family will enjoy the movie. There are lots of fun characters, but it’s really all about the Minions — Gru’s yellow, jelly-bean-shaped helpers — who spice things up with their own special kind of anarchy. Speaking in gibberish, they’re fun and more than worth the rental.
MB: Despicable Me II is a treat but my little guy deemed it “too scawy”. But I look forward to a family viewing of E.T. — the greatest family movie ever. Young or old, boys or girls, who doesn’t love the tale of that lovable little alien? Also on my eventual DVD queue would be Gremlins and even Home Alone. Kids love movies with kid heroes.
RC: Speaking of kid heroes, the adaptation of the classic Maurice Sendak children’s book Where the Wild Things Are isn’t a movie for kids as much as it is a movie about being a kid. Max is the hero, a lonely kid who goes to where the wild things are. It’s a slow moving, simple film about deep feelings. It’s not a slick, brightly coloured kid’s film with a connect-the-dots plot and an easily digested moral, but it is a magical movie.
MB: I never got the appeal of the movie or the book, but maybe I’ve been missing something. But here’s an idea: Sit down with the family and watch A Hard Day’s Night. Everyone loves The Beatles, and this is the pop group in full cheeky-cute mode. Their rock songs from 1964 sound a lot like kids music today, with their melodic hooks and innocent lyrics.