By Zack Mandell
There are plenty of kids and family movies released each year, but lately it seems most of them are animated. The live-action ones generally aren’t in the science-fiction genre, which is really a shame. Movies like “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” expertly blend family-friendly fun with science fiction and fantasy. “Earth to Echo” does the same, while incorporating elements of other famous movies as well.
Alex (Teo Halm), Munch (Reese Hartwig) and Tuck (Brian “Astro” Bradley) have been best friends since they were tiny tots. For the last couple of years, their parents have been battling against the destruction of their neighborhood, Mulberry Woods, which the city wants to tear down to expand a highway. As the film opens, it looks like the good fight is up, and the families will all scatter to different neighborhoods. Since all three boys are varying degrees of misfits, they really don’t want to see Mulberry Woods destroyed, because they don’t make friends easily and will miss their pals. One night, a splotch appears on the boys’ phones, which they initially dismiss as “barf.” Soon, they figure out that it is really a treasure map, which they follow with glee.
The map leads them to a tiny alien being named Echo, who is injured with a damaged space craft. He possesses the ability to send the maps, and just about anything else he wants, to cell phones and other electronics. Echo continues to send maps to the phones, and the boys dutifully follow each and every one with adventure on their minds. Soon local girl Emma (Ella Wahlestedt) joins the group, adding some spunk to the proceedings. The boys are going to need the lift, because a group of government agents are on the prowl, trying to secure Echo to study him. The fearless foursome must continue to aid Echo in finding the parts he needs to repair his ship so that he can fly home instead of being captured, which would surely lead to his demise.
The film takes lease of a few ideas from past movies, both of which are from a sort of golden age for live-action children’s films. The plot point about a nefarious developer wanting to destroy the neighborhood is straight from “The Goonies,” along with the treasure maps and sense of adventure. Of course, there were no aliens in “The Goonies” – that particular device is more reminiscent of “E.T. the Extraterrestrial,” especially the bit about government goons wanting to capture and run tests on Echo. There are even a few bonding elements la “Stand by Me,” albeit with a much happier ending. Although the film borrows heavily from those two movies, it also has a lot of plot points that let it stand on its own. It also uses modern-day technology like mobile phones to advance the story, which is something that a film like “Stand by Me,” set in 1959, simply couldn’t do. The mlange of films it borrows from, paired with modern technology, means that today’s tech-savvy kids, along with their parents, can both enjoy the film.
In a cast made up primarily of children, there is almost always one breakout who goes on to reach acting stardom. In “Stand by Me,” all four of the leads would go on to have highly successful acting careers. “Earth to Echo” looks like it could pull off a similar hat trick, with all three of the lead characters poised to take their careers to the next level. This is particularly true of Halm, who becomes especially close with Echo. He mirrors the character of Elliot from “E.T. the Extraterrestrial,” who had a special bond with the alien creature.
The film uses the found footage trope that was all the rage for a few years. Most of the footage pieced together to make the movie comes from the camcorder and other devices, with the bulk of it being filmed by Tuck. This gives the film the feel of a documentary, so the surprises are magnified. This effect is used wisely and really helps the narrative hum, so kids and adults alike aren’t likely to get bored during the 89-minute running time.
Director Dave Green is obviously an unabashed fan of 1980s movies like “The Goonies,” and he isn’t afraid to show it. He previously had only directed short films and a six-episode television series about zombies. “Earth to Echo” is a very ambitious film to start his feature-length film career with, but it works. He shows just enough skill and know-how to hint at a long and promising career, much like the masters who directed the films that he borrowed from to make “Earth to Echo” did at their time.
For the past 6 years, Zack Mandell has been a contributing writer for Gossip Center’s general entertainment news department. In addition, he currently owns and manages the movie website, http://www.movieroomreviews.com.