In this day and age it might feel like the underdog story is tired and worn out. The Karate Kid, Cool Runnings, The Mighty Ducks – these are just a few of the countless movies that feature this classic premise. Many are still good in their own right, but nowadays these stories tend to be beyond predictable. This can make them a tough pill to swallow for modern audiences. However, occasionally something special will come along that reminds us why certain tropes exist and why they have endured. Troop Zero is one of those movies.
In 1970’s rural Georgia, Christmas Flint (Mckenna Grace) is an imaginative nine-year-old girl who loves outer space. Her mother is deceased and she lives with her father Ramsey Flint (Jim Gaffigan). Ramsey is a defense attorney who rarely wins cases and is often not compensated by the poor folk he helps defend. Miss Rayleen (Viola Davis) is a cynical yet good-hearted employee of Mr. Ramsey. When Christmas learns the prize for the upcoming Birdie Scouts talent competition is having their voices recorded and sent into space with the Voyager spacecraft, she becomes adamantly determined to win the competition. She convinces a crew of other misfits in town to start a troop (Troop Zero) and a reluctant Miss Rayleen agrees to be troop leader. Yet, in their path is the uptight scout organizer Miss Massey (Allison Janney) and her troop of snobby and mean-spirited young perfectionists.
Piloted by the female directing team Bert & Bertie, and distributed by Amazon Studios, Troop Zero is yet another example of newcomers breaking into the scene through streaming platforms. What hooks you from the very beginning is this extraordinary cast. Viola Davis doesn’t know how to phone it in, giving yet another heart-wrenching performance. Allison Janney embodies the uptight prude, but with just a tad of humanity. Perhaps most surprising, Jim Gaffigan transforms into his gruff let lovable character displaying some major acting chops that I didn’t know he had. Finally, Mckenna Grace will melt your heart while displaying tremendous range for such a young actor. Passion radiates from everyone on screen and it goes a long way in elevating a story that is somewhat traditional into something quite special.
It is still fair to criticize the plot of Troop Zero as being rather conventional. A rag-tag bunch of misfit kids teaming up to compete against a team of seemingly unbeatable bullies is not exactly breaking new ground. The framework of the story is one we’ve seen a million times before, but what makes Troop Zero shine is its heart and soul, and ultimately, the message that it sends.
At the core of any underdog story is an emphasis on the importance of perseverance, dreaming big, and believing in oneself. These are all essential life lessons. However, if it feels like our underdog succeeds without sufficient adversity, these morals may ring hollow. A sense of realism is necessary to elevate above a mere children’s fairy tale. Troop Zero walks this line pretty well. There are still times the girls hit a stroke of luck that allows them to continue, but most importantly Troop Zero doesn’t shy away from depicting the inherent unfairness life can throw at you, especially as a kid.
It could have gone a little bit further. The cruelness of racial disparities and prejudice against Joseph (a more feminine than average boy who joins the troop) are touched upon, but not to the full extent one might expect in 1970s Georgia. Still, life has clearly not been too kind to our young and old protagonists alike, and the adversity they face does serve to make this story compelling.
What truly elevates Troop Zero above your average feel-good family movie isn’t its narrative, but how beautifully it displays another underdog theme – individuality. Christmas Flint is unapologetically who she is. Despite her desire to win a prize that generally necessitates conventional talent, she never tries to be conventional. Even when surrounded by cynicism, the tenacity of her free spirit infects those around her and the audience as well. The last act of this film is incredibly moving. It’s not entirely unpredictable, but it conveys the message at the heart of this film in such a thorough and satisfying way.
This is a movie about daring to be different. Even if the entire world is against you, stand up to it anyway, assert yourself, and be proud of who you are. I doubt there is a soul among us who wouldn’t benefit from hearing this from time to time. It may not be the most original thing you’ve ever seen, but if you are looking for a family friendly movie with a powerful and inspiring message, Troop Zero delivers in a big way.
About Troop Zero
Synopsis: Christmas Flint is a bold young outcast who inspires other misfits to challenge convention and compete in the local Birdie Scouts talent show.
Directors: Bert & Bertie
Writers: Lucy Alibar
Stars: Viola Davis, Mckenna Grace, Jim Gaffigan, Mike Epps, Charlie Shotwell, Allison Janney
Run time: 98 Minutes