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Featured DVD / Blu-ray Review: An American Girl: McKenna Shoots for the Stars

July 3rd, 2012

An American Girl: McKenna Shoots for the Stars - DVD and Blu-ray Combo Pack - Buy Direct or Video on Demand

American Girl is a line of dolls and books that started in 1986. They proved popular enough that a live action movie was made in 2004, which was the first of many. The franchise has not only been very popular, but they've had an amazing track record launching careers. For instance, AnnaSophia Robb and Shailene Woodley both got early boosts from the franchise, while Abigail Breslin was already a big star before she was in Kitt Kittredge. An American Girl: McKenna Shoots for the Stars comes out this week in limited stores, either Direct or at Walmart, as well as Video on Demand. Will it sell as well as past releases? And will it help launch careers?

The Movie

Jade Pettyjohn stars as the titular McKenna Brooks, a nine-year old gymnast with dreams of Olympic glory. However, these dreams are pushing her to perform a risky back handspring dismount and her Isabelle (Cathy Rigby), coach, warns her against doing that. McKenna thinks she needs them to qualify for the regionals, while her coach is worried that trying to do too much too fast could lead to an injury. Her best friend, Toulane (Ysa Penarejo) encourages her, saying she's the second best gymnast there, second best to her. There's not a lot of competition for them at the club with Sierra (Kally Berard) more academically minded, although they mention Megan from another club as a possible rival. Gymnastics isn't the only difficulty right now. Her mother and father tell her that her teacher has mentioned she's falling behind in school and she might need a tutor to catch up. She promises to try harder, but after failing her science quiz, and trying to cheat to get out of it, she's forced to take a tutor.

McKenna is really embarrassed about needing a tutor, which is why she hasn't told Toulane and she even hides under the table when Sierra comes to the library. Her tutor is Josie, a middle school student, who happens to be in a wheelchair, which does make her a little uncomfortable. Josie tries to be helpful, but when she wants McKenna to take a step back in reading level, McKenna is not happy and wants a new tutor. First her coach and now her tutor are treating her like a baby. This is partially why she decides to try her back handspring dismount at that week's demonstration, but as her coach warned, it was risky and she has an accident and ends up with a broken ankle. She will be stuck in a cast for eight weeks and, while it will come off before the regionals, she will be far behind in practice and it will be very hard for her to catch up. To make matters worse, she can't talk to Toulane about it, because the girls have had a falling out. McKenna has been lying about where she is when she's with her tutor, so Toulane thinks McKenna is just avoiding her. When Sierra does catch her with her tutor, she's mortified. But when Sierra confesses that she used to have a tutor as well, McKenna begins to have a better attitude. She and Sierra even bond. However, this causes even more problems between her and Toulane, who thinks McKenna has replaced her as her best friend.

Will McKenna get back into competition shape in time? Will she patch things up with Toulane? Will she pass her next science test?

My expectations for An American Girl: McKenna Shoots for the Stars were on the low side. It is a franchise based on a line of dolls, after all and there was a real chance it would be a 90-minute commercial for the toys. Additionally, most shows aimed at pre-teen girls are not exactly challenging stories. Most just have a couple characters on a quest for fame, who get into over-the-top adventures as a result. However, I was pleasantly surprised. First of all, it is a real story that deals with things the average pre-teen would have to deal with. Even if they are not dreaming of the Olympics, they will still understand the pressures of balancing school, friends, and duties regardless of the exact nature. There are excellent lessons to be learned about friendship, not being embarrassed about needing help, determination, but also about making sure you follow your dreams. (Part of the story deals with Toulane's mother, who is pushing Toulane towards the Olympics, because Toulane's sister was on that path before an injury cost her a chance to compete.) The characters are all grounded in reality and never become caricatures and don't fall victims to over-the-top plot points either. Well, most of the time, that is. At one point, Toulane follows McKenna to find out where she is going and she has to use her gymanstics talents in a secret agent kind of way. They even resort to split-screen effects and Mission: Impossible-like score . Fortunately, they only did something this once, so it was very fun. Had they overdone it, it would have ruined the overall mood.

The Extras

Sadly, there are no extras on the DVD or the Blu-ray. The Blu-ray does look really good compared to other TV movies / Direct-to-DVD releases. The details are sharp, the colors are good, etc., but there's not a lot here to blow you away. Likewise, the audio is clear and while there are a few scenes with some activity in the surround sound speakers, it is a mostly uncomplicated audio track. The DVD costs $15 on the official site, while the Blu-ray Combo Pack is $22. The Blu-ray Combo Pack does come with the DVD and a digital copy, so depending on how often you use those, it could be worth the extra money.

The Verdict

An American Girl: McKenna Shoots for the Stars comes out this week on DVD and Blu-ray Combo Pack, which can be bought directly from the official site or from through Video on Demand. Also, it will air on NBC Saturday, July 14th, at 8:00 p.m. / 7:00 p.m. Central. It is worth checking out and I think girls in the right age range will want to see it more than once.

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