In this day and age when, in any movie that involves children, said children will typically use any number of swearing and try to act like grown-ups too soon and everything falls apart for them, this movie was such a nostalgic breath of relief for me.
The brief explanation why: throughout the whole movie, I kept feeling like I was watching something from old-school Nickelodeon/Disney or an old Stephen King movie that had kids be not only the heroes, but also actually be kids- stupid, silly, quirky, annoying, but sticking together and show the world what it means to see the world through their eyes.
The longer explanation (and then some):
From the moment the movie began, the first thing that caught my attention was the sound design- minimalistic technic sounds, bordering on glitch, but too organized to be so.
Cue interviews, starting with the kid that seemed most like any given kid from the 90's, Munch. A total goofball who pretty much shows his personality within a couple minutes as you will see through the rest of the feature. Then lonely, depressed Alex, who doesn't give a crap because of the circumstances surrounding all of them, their families, their whole neighborhood. Then the mastermind of the camcorder, Tuck Simms, the main character of the flick. He gives a rundown on his friends and what's going on and why things are a touch depressing- yet none of it stops them from trading jokes and pulling friendly pranks on one another. One day, though, Tuck's phone "barfs" (as he says) what looks like a very weird image. It's happening to a lot of phones, so what's a kid to do? The three pull a classic 80's kid movie trick- lie to their parents, take a ride to see what their phones are "telling" them to do. The phones have gone from all maps to one map and two other functions.
Soon, they find what they're supposed to... a piece of junk, but after that, they find out it's more than that, it becomes something of a living treasure to them, one that has serious problems.
From there, things get a little more complicated (don't want a kid movie that's got the multiple layers of complexity of an adult-minded intellectual film, right?), with the video engineering being used in an interesting way- most films today that either use today's phone/computer technology or exploit it tend to overuse it and it becomes more a nuisance than revolutionary. In this case, in more than one way, it's organic to the movie's story, as well as Tuck's occasional narration. More than that is how the kids stick together, make questionable judgment calls (and Munch making obvious notes along the way, becoming the group's conscience, essentially), and all 4 kids (a girl that was the subject of jokes earlier in the movie eventually joins of her own volition, much to the boys' chagrin) get together and lay down everything they have to help their robotic owl-esque shaped companion, Echo, get too full strength and power. Even when Echo's not in full strength, he's still able to pull of his own little brand of MacGyver tricks. In one scene in particular, just when all hope seems lost and Echo has lost, one of the kids still has enough faith to do a repeat of something Echo always did and it actually works for Echo's benefit. After that, things just get better and better. By the time Echo gets all the help he needs to his ship, he has a little holographic map in front of him. Luckily, it's not on a grand scale like the 3-d planetary map in Prometheus, but just mere inches in front of Echo's tiny head. I thought was very nice and subtle- making sure the kids have room amongst their selves to talk without getting interrupted and awed but be theirselves. Moments later, never mind, it happens, but not so overly layered as to take away from the kids... they're featured within the holograms. After that, all's ready for liftoff. But after all the flashy stuff happens, I almost felt gypped, like it was way too rushed, then it occurs to me- they flashy effects weren't what the movie was about, if the effects stole too much of the scenes, they would have taken away from the kids's story. That realization hit me hard how much the filmmakers were making something for KIDS to enjoy, and maybe adults like me who would feel nostalgia of back then- when kids were kids, doing idiotic stuff, having wacky, quirky fun, having the adventure of a lifetime without the involvement of sex, swearing (one minced oath is let loose, reminding me of Jim Beaver's character in the CW's "Supernatural"), or heavy violence (there's a fight scene, but gladly it doesn't get bloody), or even drinking. They went out of their way during the adventure to help someone that was hurt, help them on their way escape people who wanted them dead (this is my one problem with the movie: the adults, for the most part, were rather one-dimensional, really no variety either in all the combined personalities nor in their character personalities), and that who they're helping helps them as well in incredible ways. So this has been an incredible journey for me to enjoy, and I wasn't ashamed that a couple times, I was the only one who laughed at surprised moments or the kids' quirks. I had great fun with this nostalgic package, straight from Relativity Media.