Mighty Oak Review: Child-Prodigy Tommy Ragen Plays Rockstar

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What happens when movie theaters have been closed for a pandemic, and studios are skittish about releasing content that might not get seen?

It seems that you get movies that would have otherwise gone direct to video suitable for the whole family(ish) that can play across the nation's few open theater chains and drive-ins.

One such film is Mighty Oak, a flick starring Janel Parrish of Pretty Little Liars fame and a young fellow named Tommy Ragen, a ten-year-old music prodigy and songwriter who can play a mean guitar.

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The story of Mighty Oak follows Parrish's character, Gina Jackson aka Jean Jacket, as she works alongside and manages a band -- Army of Love -- fronted by her brother, Vaughn (Levi Dylan) on their quest for fame and fortune.

That rise is hardly meteoric as, on the night of their big break opening for Arcade Fire at the Hollywood Bowl, they suffer a tragic accident in which Vaughn gets killed.

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Fast forward ten years, and Gina is in a terrible state. Stopped in her tracks by grief, she's unable to function without booze, and she makes her living gambling without much success.

As a result, she's riddled with debt when she reacquaints herself with her old friends and bandmates under the guise of getting her brother's guitar to pawn for cash.

When she arrives at the band's old haunt, Lestat's, she discovers Vaughn's guitar is on loan to a precocious ten-year-old named Oak (Ragen).

Being in a questionable state, it's no surprise that when she sees Oak playing Vaughn's guitar without missing a beat and singing Army of Love tunes, Gina gets it into her head that Oak is the reincarnation of her beloved brother.

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We learn pretty quickly why Gina had managed to get the band so far ten years early, as she has a dogged determination that almost borders on obsession about the band.

Once she falls under Oak's spell, she moves very fast to get the band back together and to start the revival of AOL (because, yes, that's the band's nickname).

If it sounds unlikely that a band can reemerge with a ten-year-old lead, well, you're not alone. And despite Ragen's talent, which is plentiful, it's hard to gauge the audience for Mighty Oak as a result.

No band-loving adult is going to lose the lead of a band and then fall under the spell of a ten-year-old frontman no matter how great their guitar skills, but this is a Disney-type movie that aims to engage and delight the whole family.

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In that respect, adults can imagine the magic of second chances, while kids can dream big, too. As the film progresses, the story veers away from the band mythos to tell a tale of loss and redemption, of picking yourself up and moving on despite the terrible hand you've been dealt.

Circumstances allow Gina to care for someone other than her brother, and Oak, too, grows close with Gina because his mother (played by Alexa PenaVega) is harboring a deep secret that makes it difficult to fully connect with her.

Of course, Gina believes that by caring for Oak, she's also caring for the reincarnated spirit of her brother, a plot that elicits concern that Oak might get too attached to Gina when her attachment to him has strings.

Overall, though, it's a family-friendly movie that showcases the talents of Ragen whose original songs proliferate.

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The supporting cast doesn't always seem like they're all in the same movie, and although they do well with the material given, they're not a group you'd imagine pursuing dreams of a rock and roll lifestyle.

That is kind of the point, though. What the characters loved doing when they were young, they ultimately learn is better left to the next generation of musical hopefuls as they move on from their youthful dreams to more rewarding endeavors.

Carlos PenaVega must have been on the call sheet just under Janel and Tommy as shared leads, and Rodney Hicks, Ben Milliken, and Nana Ghana rounding out various duties within AOL. Raven-Symone and Gianna Harris are also featured throughout.

Given the scope of the film and the subject matter, it's not a movie I'd suggest you allow your kids to see without you. There are heavy themes surrounding death and addiction that could use an adult hand.

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There are also references to sex and some foul language (that has the kids saying, "you said" and giggling), but nothing too terrible.

Sean McNamara produced Mighty Oak. McNamara has a long history in family programming from Kids Incorporated to That's So Raven to Soul Surfer, so he seems to know what he's doing.

He's pulled together a mix of people he's worked with before and those familiar with the in-between genre that best describes Mighty Oak.

Mighty Oak isn't going to win any awards, and it's probably unlikely that you'll urge your friends and family to see it, but it will tug at your heart and remind you what it was like to be young and full of dreams while offering hope for those who have lost their way.

And what more do you really need as society begins to crawl out of the darkness than a little hope?

Now playing in theaters and drive-ins nationwide.

Review

Editor Rating: 2.75 / 5.0
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Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She's a member of the Critic's Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.

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