The best Disney movies have memorable characters, exciting locations, and compelling stories. Stargirl has all of those things in addition to a fresh quality that sets it apart from anything you’ve ever seen before. Based on the beloved young adult novel by Jerry Spinelli, this Disney+ original film is guaranteed to lift your spirits and make you feel comfortable in your own skin.
Leo (Graham Verchere) is a 16-year-old at Micah High in a town where nothing extraordinary ever happens until the day Stargirl (Grace VanderWaal) arrives at his school. Stargirl defies conventional norms, sings “Happy Birthday” to students on their birthday, and performs at the school’s football game even though she’s not a cheerleader… yet. She becomes popular against the odds and widens Leo’s horizon, but can a person as quirky as Stargirl truly be embraced by a peer group that thrives on masking insecurities to fit in?
As a fan of the Jerry Spinelli novel, the Disney+ film does an incredible job of capturing the spirit and tone of the book while making it into something new. It’s set in 2019 and modern technology comes into play somewhat. But what really makes the film feel magical is the music, reaching back to the classic rock era to reinvent songs from The Beach Boys (“Be True to Your School”), Big Star (“Thirteen”), and The Cars (“Just What I Needed”). The film also has an ethereal score by Rob Simonsen, who adds so much to the allure and mystique of Stargirl with his incredible music.
Albuquerque, New Mexico, stands in for Micah, Arizona, and the scenic design fully embraces the Southwest visual esthetic. Leo trails Stargirl through quiet neighborhood streets at dusk and watches as she ventures into the desert to watch the sunset. The cinematography is gorgeous with many shots inspiring awe. If you thought the poster was gorgeous, wait until you see the film.
It’s hard to believe that this is Grace VanderWaal’s acting debut. She comes across as a seasoned pro in her first film. Her take on Stargirl is sincere and honest, while also having an air of omnipotence, casually dismissing Leo’s questions by saying “I have my ways.” The costume designs are all so unique, some only receiving a few seconds of screen time, and the makeup choices add to her sorcery with iridescent blush or confetti stars applied to her look.
The film may be called Stargirl, but the story is told through the character of Leo and Graham Verchere proves himself more than capable of driving this narrated film. You can tell exactly what Leo is feeling with the way he looks at Stargirl or reacts to her many surprises. His surprise and delight extends to your heart and sells the picture. He also has some amazing and memorable moments with his on-screen mother, played by Darby Stanchfield (ABC’s Scandal).
Director Julia Hart’s musical approach to Stargirl could not be more perfect. Disney+ has already produced some incredible original content and in my opinion, this is the best original film on the service to date. It has magic, heart, and a musical soundtrack and score that are hard to match.
I give Stargirl 5 out of 5 porcupine neckties.
Alex has been blogging about Disney films since 2009 after a lifetime of fandom. He joined the Laughing Place team in 2014 and covers films across all of Disney’s brands, including Star Wars, Marvel, and Fox, in addition to books, music, toys, consumer products, and food. You can hear his voice as a member of the Laughing Place Podcast and his face can be seen on Laughing Place’s YouTube channel where he unboxes stuff.