92 min, 2014
Gator Moore is an imaginative ten-year-old and an aspiring graphic novelist. Ace Wonder is his creation, a boy detective who can solve any mystery... but first his creator has to come up with a good one. That's why the always enthusiastic Gator becomes even more excited when he meets Derek Morton, an older teen boy whose recently deceased grandfather has left him a mysterious note. Boy seeking mystery meets boy with mystery!
With a little help from Gator's two brothers the boys discover that Derek's grandfather was a much more complex man than his grandson realized. His mysterious note leads them to a whole trail of clues, and a very strange librarian, and evidence of international espionage!
Ace Wonder was created by a community of Christian homeschooling families, and this is actually their second go at this story. In the seven years since their first effort, 2007's Heartstrings, the cast and crew has improved their acting and improved the film's pacing - though the new version is 50% longer, it actually seems shorter. The acting in some Christian films is quite bad, but because this is largely a comedy, rather than a drama, not too much is demanded of the cast – their adequate if unimpressive acting gets the job done, and Gator is really quite charming. One of the big upgrades from the 2007 version are inventive, short transitional scenes done in the style of a graphic novel. In these bits we see Gator in his Ace Wonder persona, sharing thoughts about the case: funny dialogue is combined with some pretty slick graphics.
There are no sex, language, or worldview concerns, but there is one notable bit of violence. When a large man steals Gator's voice recorder, Derek intervenes, but the teen takes the ill-advised approach of attacking the large thief. Derek largely escapes injury (just a bloody lip) but only because Gator's dad arrives on the scene. In a half dozen blows dad knocks the man out. This fight, intended to be somewhat comical, is too realistic for what is otherwise a family-friendly film and is likely why Ace Wonder garnered a PG rating.
While the mystery is sometimes a bit hard to follow, the star of the film, Gator Moore, is charming enough and funny enough, to make that a small concern. The message at the heart of Ace Wonder is one that parents will appreciate – that we must give our hearts to our children, and also grab hold of their hearts. The short, violent fight at the beginning means this isn't an all-ages film, but it would likely be appropriate for 12 and up, and maybe 10 and up. I give this a 6 out of 10, for a family film that is quite good, quite safe, and quite funny, but which isn't "very" in any of those categories.
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