Kid Cudi in Disney+’s Tender Sci-Fi Adventure  

Scratch a light-hearted Disney movie and you can often find tragedy and social issues bubbling underneath. Such is the case with the new film from — as the marketing takes pains to inform us — the producers of Stranger Things, about a road trip undertaken by a group of teens. Said road trip happens to take place on the moon in this coming-of-age, sci-fi adventure film resembling a cross between Stand by Me and The Goonies if they took place in outer space. While the disparate thematic elements don’t mesh together seamlessly in Crater, the film offers enough fun and thrills to swell the ranks of aspiring astronauts.

The story revolves around Caleb (Isaiah Russell-Bailey, Netflix’s Family Reunion), who has spent his entire life on the Moon, where his widowed father Michael (a quietly touching Scott Mescudi, better known as Kid Cudi) has just died while working as a miner. As is apparently usual in such tragic situations, Caleb is to be sent to the faraway colony Omega, which involves a 75-year space trip during which he’ll be put into a cryonic state that will allow him to not age a day. Of course, this means he’ll never see his current friends again.


The Bottom Line

‘Stand by Me’ in space.

Release date: Friday, May 12
Cast: Isaiah Russell-Bailey, Mckenna Grace, Billy Barratt, Orson Hong, Thomas Boyce, Scott Mescudi, Selenis Leyva, Hero Hunter
Director: Kyle Patrick Alvarez
Screenwriter: John Griffin

Rated PG,
1 hour 45 minutes

Before undertaking his fateful journey, Caleb resolves to travel with his buddies to a particular lunar crater that his father had urged him to see. Accompanying him are rakishly handsome Dylan (Billy Barratt), worrywart Borney (Orson Hong), physically imposing but gentle Marcus (Thomas Boyce), and a new female arrival to the moon, Addison (Mckenna Grace, Ghostbusters: Afterlife).

“Borrowing” a lunar rover, the gang head out in search of the crater, stopping along the way to do the sort of things any group of kids would do on the lunar surface, namely play gravity-free baseball (Addison assures them the sport is all the rage on Earth) and another game involving jet packs that nearly sends one of them off into space permanently. They also come upon a bizarre outpost that turns out to be a model home for Omega in which the “space ghosts” they encounter turn out to be artfully arranged mannequins. Naturally, it’s a perfect spot for an impromptu dance party and a feast of food from its well-stocked pantry.  

Along the way, Caleb is coached by his late father, who appears in flashbacks making clear the close bond that existed between father and son. Crater is most effective when conveying these tender emotions, as well as in its heartwarming depiction of teenage friendship and moral support among its young characters, who refreshingly don’t engage in the sort of cruel taunting so often seen in stories of this type. It also serves up some genuine tension in its later scenes, including a harrowing episode involving a meteor shower that may prove too intense for younger viewers.

The screenplay by John Griffin (creator of the cable sci-fi series From) also takes pains to infuse the story with sociological elements concerning conservation and exploitative labor practices that feel a bit heavy-handed and jar uneasily with the more frivolous moments. The poignant ending, too, proves uncommonly emotional for a film geared toward kids, but it’s beautifully handed by director Kyle Patrick Alvarez, here working in a far different vein from his last feature, The Stanford Prison Experiment.

While Crater doesn’t fully live up to its considerable ambitions, it nonetheless deserves points for attempting to be more than just another sci-fi adventure tale. It boasts plenty of visual imagination and benefits greatly from the terrific performances by its young cast, especially Russell-Bailey, who anchors the fanciful proceedings with impressive youthful gravitas.

Full credits

Production companies: 21 Laps Entertainment, Truenorth Productions, Walt Disney Pictures
Distributor: Disney+
Cast: Isaiah Russell-Bailey, Mckenna Grace, Billy Barratt, Orson Hong, Thomas Boyce, Scott Mescudi, Selenis Leyva, Hero Hunter
Director: Kyle Patrick Alvarez
Screenwriter: John Griffin
Producers: Shawn Levy, Dan Levine, Dan Cohen
Executive producers: Emily Morris, John G. Scotti, Rpin Suwannath, Gordon Gray, Paris Latsis, Terry Douglas
Director of photography: Jas Shelton
Production designer: Nora Takacs Ekberg
Editors: Jennifer Lilly, James W. Harrison III
Costume designer: Ane Crabtree
Composers: Dan Romer, Osei Essed
Casting: Leslie Woo

Rated PG,
1 hour 45 minutes

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