Crater is the latest Disney+ Original Movie, and it now arrives just days after the disappointing news that Disney+ will start removing material from its services. During a recent earnings call for Disney, CFO Christine McCarthy revealed that the company is in the process of removing certain material from their streaming service and, in a similar move to Warner Bros. Discovery, will write down some of these projects by removing them from Disney+. The intention is to now produce fewer projects and cut down on projects that don’t seem to increase subscriber growth.
Crater is a very good movie. Despite originally being developed at 20th Century Fox before Disney purchased the studio and acquired the project, it feels very at home with a certain style of Disney movie. It is an original idea, focused primarily on kids and families, and is a high-concept pitch that hearkens back to the initial days of Walt Disney’s live-action films. Yet it is sadly the type of film that will likely be sacrificed as a write-off or not seen as high value to the company in the future, because it won’t increase subscribers. Regardless, Crater has plenty of value to offer that can’t be quantified.
Crater Is a Story About Growing Up
Crater is set on a lunar colony in 2257, where people work to mine for resources so that humanity has the fuel to travel to a planet called Omega, a new human settlement. The story follows a young boy named Caleb (Isaiah Russell-Bailey). After his father’s death, he is supposed to be sent to Omega due to a contractual reason saying anyone who dies working the mines will have their family sent to the new planet.
Before he is permanently set to be located on another planet, his three friends — Dylan (Billy Barratt), Borney (Orson Hong), and Marcus (Thomas Boyce), alongside a new transfer to the colony Addison (McKenna Grace) — decide to steal a lunar rover to visit a crater that Caleb’s father and mother used to visit. This journey will test these kids emotionally and see them become masters of their own fate. Underneath all the science fiction set dressing, Crater is a coming-of-age story about a group of friends that have to confront the fact that one of their friends is about to move away and have one last night of fun.
Crater is directed by Kyle Patrick Alvarez, who is best known for character-centric dramas like Easier with Practice and The Stanford Prison Experiment. While he might seem like an odd pick for what is a family film, he brings with him a level of emotional maturity needed for the project. He is able to capture the fun these kids have on their journey but is also able to have quieter somber moments of characters just talking as they contemplate their future and own mortality.
The movie also features a cast of strong young actors. The cast is minimal, with only a few speaking parts for adults, with the primary focus being on the central kids and much of the film resting on their shoulders. McKenna Grace has been a rising star for years and shows why she is one of the best young stars in Hollywood. Russell-Bailey, Barratt, Hong, and Boyce not only hold their own but shine as performers who need to convey carefree kids but also children who have had the burden of adulthood thrust upon them earlier than expected. This is a talented cast that, hopefully, audiences will be seeing in movies for years.
Crater Taps Into Fears and Anxieties of Its Target Audience
Crater‘s basic pitch is Stand By Me meets Ad Astra. The film is produced by Shawn Levy, who has made a career attempting to make modern-day Amblin Entertainment films such as E.T., The Goonies, and Batteries Not Included. Be it movies he has directed like Real Steal and The Adam Project to his other efforts as a producer like Love and Monsters or the successful Stranger Things, Levy specializes in making projects that aim to capture that ’80s Amblin magic that audiences love while also updating them for 21st century audiences.
Yet while Stranger Things and The Adam Project are very much aiming to invoke those movies to appeal to older audiences who grew up with them, Crater is very much aimed at an audience of kids which makes it more authentic to those 80’s style kids’ movies.
What makes Crater uniquely interesting is how it is very much a movie aimed at Gen Z that seems to speak to concerns and fears they have. Crater has quite a bit of noted commentary about class, as it is established everyone who works on the lunar colony should, in theory, be able to go to Omega after working 20 years. But the strict contract means that anyone who misses a day of work, is sick, or slows down production can have more time added to their service, and it can also be passed down generations. So the kids in Crater are starting their lives working off the time their parents had before even starting their own, effectively making this a life they can never escape from.
This brings to mind the idea of debt and notions of generational traumas, fears and anxieties many kids today face, as they have been born into a world of constant global conflicts and recessions and even spent a good part of their adolescence inside due to a global pandemic. Social media has made them much more aware of the injustice in the world, forcing many to grow up quickly. Crater acknowledges that and is a kid’s movie very much aimed at them as opposed to their parents trying to remind them of their own childhood. Crater instead asks older audiences to engage with a story that is not about them and take on a real point of view.
Disney’s Changing and Leaving Movies Like Crater Behind
Disney is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, and with it has come a great deal of celebration of the company’s history. What tends to be spotlighted are their animated classics that have served as the pillars of the company, or recent entries from subsidiaries like Marvel and Pixar, the Star Wars franchise, or even iconic pieces of live-action like Mary Poppins and the Pirates of the Caribbean. Yet Disney seems to want to forget the smaller films that helped give it an identity.
Disney has been a constantly changing company, and their business model has shifted. They still wanted to invest in mid-budget theatrical family films, and Disney Channel Original Movies were another way for them to tell the same wacky stories aimed at kids they use to specialize in back in the 50s and 60s. When Disney+ launched, the original films seemed to be like the mid-budget film that the studio didn’t release theatrically anymore, but had more polish and bigger budgets than what they would afford a Disney Channel Movie. That need for material gave Crater a home.
Disney is now focused on blockbuster events, so much so that even a remake like Peter Pan & Wendy or a long-awaited sequel like Disenchanted are too risky for theatrical releases. Films like Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, The Little Mermaid, Elemental, and Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny fill their summer slate and are all blockbusters. Less than a decade ago, Disney was still releasing mid-budget films in theaters. The same year they released Guardians of the Galaxy, they were also releasing films like Million Dollar Arm and Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. Now both of those would be Disney+ releases, if they would be made at all.
Crater is a Disney movie that the company sadly doesn’t believe is viable in the theatrical market, and there was a time when audiences and creatives could be thankful there was at least a market like streaming to invest in it. Yet those days feel numbered now. To get made, one needs to be a major franchise. It won’t be a Marvel film or a Star Wars project that has trouble getting off the ground at Disney, but a movie like Crater.
While Disney may have seen it just as content for their streaming service, it is clear the creatives, both in front of and behind the camera, put a lot of effort into making Crater a movie they would want to see. They didn’t make a piece of content to be disposed of. They went in to make a film that could entertain, educate, and inspire, and they achieve it. It might not be groundbreaking, but not all films need to be. Sometimes a movie can just exist. If it speaks to somebody, it mattered. One never knows who will be reached and impacted by a film like this. Seek out Crater and watch it with the family for a nice relaxing afternoon this summer, because it should not be lost in the vast space of streaming.
Crater debuts on Disney+ May 12, 2023.
This story originally appeared on Movieweb