Earth to Echo is a PG-rated live action-adventure movie starring kids, about kids and made for kids. Pause for a second and consider that. Consider how rare that is.
In most ways, Earth to Echo is very much a modern movie. It’s full of CGI. It’s a nostalgic riff on already beloved ideas. It’s “found footage.” But at its core, it represents a kind of movie that simply isn’t getting made anymore and one that is dearly missed: the live action kids’ movie that takes itself seriously and delivers an actual adventure with actual stakes while actually being appropriate for kids.
That’s not to say Hollywood is lacking in quality family entertainment. In fact, 2014 has already given us one kid-friendly movie that doesn’t insult its target audience’s intelligence in How to Train Your Dragon 2, which attaches huge moments of emotional weight to what could have been a simple, colorful and cute movie. Pixar has made this kind of storytelling an art form. Sure, they make “family movies,” but they never feel the need to remove a sense of consequence from their storytelling and they do it without overly catering to older crowds.
Of course, that’s the exception that proves the rule. Just look at the films being released this summer. Kids love Spider-Man, but will they love The Amazing Spider-Man 2, which buries so much superhero action under needlessly complicated conspiracy mumbo jumbo? What about X-Men: Days of Future Past, which is as dark and grim and violent as superhero movies get? Of course, these have nothing on Transformers: Age of Extinction, which somehow manages to be a three hour toy commercial that’s also wildly misogynistic and filled with rancid humor and politics (at least it’s not as racist as past entries in this series). These films are allowed to be what they are — and many of this summer’s movies have been really good — but they all cater to the same crowd. Even movies that should be kids movies test the limits of the PG-13 rating and bend over backwards to wow adults aged 18-49. Kids are left in the dust.
And it’s understandable. It’s economics. Kids don’t buy their own movie tickets and any studio head or producer worth putting in charge of a massive corporate entity knows that nostalgic 20-somethings are more likely to make something like Transformers a hit than tons of fresh-faced children. They prey on our nostalgia and we thank them for it by giving movies based on ’80s toylines $ 100 million openings at the box office.
This is where I can’t help but wonder about the future. My generation (and the generation before that) have a bit of a problem letting go of our childhoods and while it’s totally okay to still love the things you loved two decades ago, is it okay if it’s at the expense of a new generation? At this rate, the next generation of moviegoers are going to grow up devouring recycled material. They’re watching grown up versions of the stuff we used to like when we were their age rather than stuff that they can call their own.
As an adult moviegoer without kids, I can’t help but wonder what this means for my purely-imaginary-at-this-point future kids. Will they love something that they can call their own or will I just have to show them Gremlins and Back to the Future and the other movies I liked (and still like) when I was younger? This is why I rejoice at the announcement of Pacific Rim 2 — despite the first film’s PG-13 rating, it’s pretty much the perfect movie for eight year old boys and it’s completely original. It belongs to a new generation that will grow up on it. We adults who like it are merely renting it.
And Pacific Rim, for all of its faults, has weight. It’s about humanity struggling to save the world. It has heroic sacrifice. It has genuine danger. It’s scary. But it does it all at just the right pitch. It has no interest in being crass or catering to the crowds who only enjoy their pulpy entertainment if it’s been stripped of color and joy.
Look at it this way: kids, the primary audience for superheroes, deserve a Batman movie that isn’t viscerally disturbing and morally grey. Yeah, The Dark Knight is great, but it’s still a movie about a guy who wears a bat costume so he can punch criminals. Filmmakers and audiences seem to look on the idea of kid-friendly movies with condescension, forgetting that our prime nostalgic years are littered with great movies that catered to everyone.
So I’m glad Earth to Echo exists and I’m glad it’s getting a wide release during the Fourth of July holiday. it won’t be able to compete with the likes of Transformers, but its mere existence proves that people are still out there making movies for the people who haven’t made up their minds about their likes and dislikes yet. The power of a good kid-friendly yarn is that it has the power to influence and change a young mind. For two generations of movie fans, Star Wars and Jurassic Park represent a grand “before and after.” You were one person when you stepped into the theater and another person when you stepped out. Earth to Echo isn’t going to change a generation, but I hope it does well so that a generation-defining blockbuster can emerge. If children are our greatest resource, then let’s treat them right and give them the movies they deserve.
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