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Kids ought to have good movies too. Sure, it’s great to have films like The Incredibles and Swiss Family Robinson that the adults can enjoy right along with the younger set, but kids also deserve movies that abandon grown-up interests altogether and cater to their way of seeing the world. The catch is if you’re going to do that, make sure you’re creating something that’s going to entertain them by helping them understand the realities of life, not the shallow drivel they can expect when they’re old enough to read Seventeen.

The movie tells the story of two young girls, Claire (played by teen pop singer Emma Roberts) and Hailey (played by over-sexed teen pop singer Jojo –seeing a trend here?) whose friendship is threatened when Hailey faces a family move to Australia. A late night prayer of desperation to the “gods of the hurricane” conjures up a demi-miracle: a mermaid in the pool (teen pop singer Sara Paxton – yup, a pop singer trifecta).

Aquamarine by name, she has run away from home where her father is forcing her to marry against her will. Her only hope of escaping this fate is a desperate deal struck with dear old Dad: she must find true love in 3 days or return home to his arranged engagement. Fortunately, Claire and Hailey know everything about love. They’ve read all about it in magazines.

Thanks to the all too handy fact that mermaids can grow legs as long as the sun is up and they don’t get wet (think Little Mermaid meets the Gremlins), Aqua sets out to win the heart of Raymond (Jake McDorman), the hunky high school senior / life guard who also happens to be the object of Claire and Hailey’s boy crush-lust. The girls oh so graciously sacrifice their non-existent claim on Raymond when they learn that if they help Aquamarine fall in love with him she will grant them a wish: Claire won’t have to move away.

I admit, I didn’t actually read the Alice Hoffman novel (sorry, the preteen-girl book genre just isn’t on my reading list) but from what I’ve seen of it in summaries and excerpts, this ship has sailed way off course.

Essentially, everything redeeming about the story and characters have been shoved it into the last fifteen minutes of the movie, almost as an afterthought. It’s a shame too, as the ending is very touching if not a bit predictable. In those final moments all three girls finally discover the true meaning of love and McDorman gets a brief chance to prove he was cast for something other than his Baywatch body. The rest of the story has been coated in a thick layer of shallow pop-culture and teen-glam magazine vapidity, the kinds of stuff you don’t want to see in a movie marketed to the 8 to 12 year old set.

As if to prove how far they’ll go, the filmmakers add “bitch” to the character vocabulary and pepper the movie with scenes of oversexed music underscoring McDorman exuding his masculinity. I don’t have a ten year old daughter, but I’m pretty sure I’d have been a little concerned with what was going on in her head during the show.

Aquamarine had the potential to be a truly great kids’ movie, something young girls could have fun watching while learning some important lessons from characters they could relate to. Instead it’s been turned into a marketing trap for what MTV hopes will be its next viewing audience. Like the tobacco industry they seem to be going after them younger and younger. Too boring for girls over 12 and too adult for anyone younger, it’s a movie for no one. My advice to any parents thinking of reeling this one in: toss the mermaid back and go get a dog named Winn Dixie.
3 / 10 stars
Rating: movie reviewed star rating out of five