Friendship is so important when growing up, and that’s essentially what Earth to Echo is about. Tuck (Brian "Astro" Bradley), Alex (Teo Halm), and Munch (Reese Hartwig) are three best friends who are about to be torn apart by a freeway project being constructed over their neighborhood. When mysterious images start showing up on their cell phones during their last week together, they soon find that the pictures are actually a map to a remote location in the desert surrounding their Arizona town. They follow the map and discover a strange, robotic alien, whom they name Echo, that needs their help finding various pieces to a key that will help him get home. Along the way, school friend Emma (Ella Wahlestedt) joins them, and they discover that the “freeway project” separating them may not be what it seems.
On the surface, Earth to Echo seems innocent and straightforward enough, but when you really start to think about it, this family-friendly adventure has some fundamental problems.
Take the way the film handles the one “significant” female character, which is extremely problematic. Munch — who is, admittedly, kind of an oddball — calls Emma “Mannequin Girl,” because she’s very pretty and he thinks mannequins are “hot.” Okay, I’ll admit I laughed at that, because it’s pretty bizarre and unexpected. When you get past that, however, you realize this kid not only just compared her to an inanimate object, he compared her to the ultimate embodiment of unrealistic beauty standards that all women are pressured to live up to, especially young girls. I can’t even think of a more blatant example of female objectification. Throughout the film, Emma gets little character development and the 13-year-old girl is essentially relegated to the role of sex object and trophy (in the most PG way possible, of course). Frankly, I’d rather see no female character at all than expose kids to such implicit messages about girls and their importance.
Aside from the sexist undertones, there are countless other problems with Earth to Echo, particularly the fact that they don’t explain anything. The only definitive information we get is that Echo is an alien who crashed on Earth and he needs the kids' help to find various pieces of the key to his ship. So the kids travel via bike to all these random places — a pawn shop, Emma’s house, a bar, etc. — to find the pieces, but the film never explains how the pieces got there. Why are they so spread out? How did one wind up in Emma’s jewelry box, or inside a jukebox, for that matter? The result of all these unanswered questions and frequent location changes is a disjointed, confusing narrative.
Adding to this confusion is the fact that the film switches main characters halfway through the movie. The opening of the film clearly establishes Tuck as the main character, because he’s the one who films everything, he’s the one narrating everything, and he’s the one who pushes for the trio to ride out into the desert in the first place. After finding Echo, however, Alex — who up until that point, and even after, doesn’t do much besides make eyes at the camera — seems to emerge as the main protagonist because he connects with Echo more.
The bad guys, who are looking for Echo, hover on the edge of the story the entire time, and offer approximately zero answers when they finally do catch up to Echo and the kids. We don’t even know who these people are. Are they a government agency? If so, do they have clearance to kidnap kids and question them without a parent or guardian present? They’re just vague scientist-type people who aren’t even frightening.
Lost in all of this, as you can probably tell since it has taken me this long to get to it, is Echo. Echo is an adorable owl-like robot-alien hybrid, but he doesn’t do much except for a few cool maneuvers at the end. You could chalk it up to his apparently weakened state from the crash, but I’d like to see more of him considering he is the titular character. Of course, it’s hard to focus on much in this movie because of the shaky quality of the footage. I get that it’s a found-footage movie presumably shot by 13-year-olds, but it is sometimes headache-inducing and unpleasant to watch.
Needless to say, if you’ve gotten this far into the review I doubt I need to outright say that I don’t recommend you see Earth to Echo, but there it is. You’ll be better off just taking the kids to the beach this summer, or even watching Frozen for the hundredth time, because as annoying as “Let it Go” is, at least that movie makes some sense.