Rated PG for action, peril and mild language
Written by Henry Gayden and Andrew Panay
Directed by Dave Green
Starring Teo Halm, Astro, Reese Hartwig, Ella Wahlestedt, Jason Gray-Stanford and more
It’s rare for a kid’s movie to focus exclusively on its target audience. Generally, filmmakers can’t resist throwing in at least a few jokes aimed at the adults, as if apologizing for the fact that they have to watch a movie meant for a younger crowd.
“Earth to Echo,” on the other hand, feels it has nothing to apologize for. The latest Hollywood adventure where human kids befriend a suitably adorable alien, the movie is designed specifically to appeal to the hopes, dreams and worries of older kids and preteens in the audience. It’s happy to speak to the inner 12-year-old of any adult who might be watching, but it’s not really interested in the rest of you.
The plot is essentially “E.T.” for a new generation, except this time the cute little alien looks metallic and Elliott has transformed into three boys and a girl. The same sense of wonder is there, as well as the tentative magic of a newly formed friendship. They’re even being chased by shadowy government officials who want to keep the little guy from going home, though filmmakers kept the details vague to avoid any potential nightmares in tinier audience members.
The four are all played by relative unknowns, though this may be the breakout movie for young actor Teo Halm. He’s the best at keeping his character balanced on the line between quirky and relatable, communicating his back story as a foster kid far more subtly and believably than the script ever managed to.
All four of the kids are saddled with too-obvious representations of pre-teen issues, from being forced into a particular role by your parents to being almost completely ignored by them. The movie does a much better job at communicating the trauma moving can have on kids, particularly the way it feels like you’re losing your whole world.
When the script gets out of the way and lets the performers do their work, the movie also seems to do an excellent job of capturing what it’s like to be a 12-year-old today. Kids can sometimes seem like an alien species to us grown-ups, still caught in a world we abandoned a long time ago, but “Earth to Echo” felt like an unrestricted glimpse into a world we’re no longer welcome in.
It would have helped though, if the format hadn’t made it such a challenge to see. The movie is shot entirely as if it was found footage, mostly thanks to one of the foursome who makes YouTube videos and conveniently always seems to have some kind of camera on him. That results in several rapid angle changes and plenty of jerky movements, dramatically increasing the visual disorientation. If you have any tendency towards motion sickness, make sure you’re loaded up on Dramamine before entering the theater.
Still, there are advantages. Some shots are also from the alien’s camera-like perspective, a unique touch that helps us identify with the voiceless alien. When combined with the immediacy of the hand-held camera, it makes the audience feel as though they’re right there in the middle of the action.
It’s not enough to make you a kid again, but your inner 12-year-old will definitely appreciate the adventure.