First time full feature director Dave Green’s new film, Earth to Echo, is a science-fiction adventure for the kiddies based on an extra-terrestrial event with a theme of friendship at its heart. It was born out of producer Andrew Panay’s (producer on “Wedding Crashers“) original idea which was to try and re-capture the quintessential 1980’s family movies like “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial,” “Stand by Me” and “The Goonies” and set them in a modern day environment.
But perhaps he borrowed a little too heavily from them.
Like the neighborhood “Goonies” families, Earth to Echo focuses on a neighborhood of families who are all being forced out of their homes due to a highway construction project. The kids of said families: Alex (Teo Halm), Tuck (Brian ‘Astro’ Bradley) and Munch (Reese Hartwig) decide to take themselves (and viewers) on one last Goonie-esque adventure before their friendship group disperses in different directions marking the end of their childhoods. The catalyst for their journey is an obscure message that takes over their smart-phones and leads them into the desert where they make the discovery of a lifetime — Echo, a cute little alien that is lost and desperate to get back home.
Each of the main three characters brings something to the mix creating a successful trio of watchable protagonists. The wounded Alex was orphaned at an early age and it’s this feeling of alienation that helps him to identify most with their new friend Echo. As per “The Goonies,” a Chunk who’s been renamed Munch, is part of the group and as to be expected he successfully provides much of the comic relief. Lastly, there is Tuck a natural born performer who, like so many kids today, documents most of his life on camera and puts it on line for all to see.
It is this aspect that sets the film apart from the ‘80’s nostalgia films it borrows so heavily from. With the medium of social media so prevalent in Earth to Echo it could actually be considered the next step in the “found footage” genre as not only has Tuck captured the whole “E.T.” inspired adventure on video, he’s also edited it together and uploaded it to YouTube for all to see. This style of story-telling may not be the best way to tell a tale (there is plenty of shaky cam to will through), but it will surely prove extremely successful in capturing the minds of the intended target audience — a generation of youths who have never known a world without the continually self-referential nature of social media.
And while Earth to Echo may tell the tale of a bittersweet adventure (the friends think it will be their last one together), it is by no means a downbeat story. Green’s motivation was to create a film “that will encourage kids to step up and take part in whatever way they know how. They can make a difference. They just have to take that opportunity,” and that they do. They have their own full on private “Goonies” “this is our time” moment. The children seen at the start of the film clearly feel powerless and invisible; this is never more transparent then a scene where Tuck is literally ignored by his family in favor of his older more conventional brother (it’s no wonder he turns to social media for attention). However, by the end they mature, learning and embracing Green’s valuable lesson that when it counts they can rely on themselves to achieve and make things happen.
It’s an uplifting theme that won’t go unnoticed by the children who are sure to love this film. Nor will it go unseen by the adults, however, it won’t be original to them and they may have a hard time suspending belief when they encounter never-ending smart-phone batteries or a child with no previous driving experience getting behind the wheel of a car and picking up how to drive it in five minutes flat. Through the trusting non-cynical eyes of a child though, Earth to Echo will be pure magic.