Earth to Echo might be a Disney movie, but it's a cool little adventure showing influences from 1980s sci-fi to more recent fare like J.J. Abram's Super 8.
The movie revolves around best friends Tuck, Munch, and Alex. Tuck, the protagonist played by Brian 'Astro' Bradley, is increasingly dismayed at their neighborhood being torn apart after a construction company comes in to build a highway, so he decides to start filming their lives. We see their world through the handheld eyes of Tuck's many recording devices.
The boys, outcasts at their school, find solace in each other. Alex, played by Teo Halm, is an adopted child of two loving parents who are expecting a baby of their own; he's brooding just enough to be short of a cliché, but trust issues still come through. Munch (Reese Hartwig) brings the apprehension to the group and the squeaky-clean attitude that prevents him from ever lying.
Two days before everyone in the neighborhood is to evacuate, hopelessness sets in.
"We're just kids. What can we do?" ponders Tuck.
Soon enough, something weird happens. Their smartphones start what they call "barfing" — weird designs pop up on the screens, making the phones unusable. The boys become convinced that there's a bigger picture, and everything, including the construction company, is connected.
With some encouragement from Tuck, who's clinging to anything to make the most of their dwindling time together, they set out to find the source of the dysfunction. Along the way, they pick up Emma (Ella Wahlestedt), a popular girl at school who is tired of the cookie-cutter life she's lived so far. What they find is truly out of this world: an alien that's stranded, and it's up to them to help the little guy.
The CGI is on-point, adding to the film but not totally overtaking it. The alien is reminiscent of Pixar's Wall-E, rounded and communicating nonverbally and with beeps.
Earth to Echo, aimed at tweens, has a message of empowerment. Here, the kids, armed with cameras and a sense of adventure, figure out what's going on in their community. It works. The jokes land just right even for the adults in the audience, though some might have a hard time keeping up with the handheld cameras, which sometimes were just fast-moving enough to feel lost.
Earth to Echo is a good film for those parents with older children, particularly ones that might feel helpless with issues in their community. They can see how, despite their age, they can make a difference too.
Earth to Echo