“Aria Appleton: Shines Like The Sun,” is a wheels-off, Disney-style and faith-based independent feature film about a young girl who will do anything to achieve stardom, even if that means stepping on those around her who care for her most.
Shot in the DFW area and, despite a low budget and a group of local filmmakers with varying experience, the film has much to offer.
In 2014 Nathan D. Myers, a local writer, director and producer, put together a crew for an independent movie to be shot in Fort Worth, Texas that involved mainly a cast of young children around the ages 10 to 13. The film was completed and had its first public screening at the recent 2016 Lone Star Film Festival.
I had the chance to attend a private screening for cast and crew at the Omni IMAX Theater at the Science & History Museum in Fort Worth because, in addition to writing movie reviews, I get to pursue another one of my passions through a career in film and TV production. I’m proud to say I was a part of this project, so I approach this review with added knowledge and obviously some bias.
In the film, young Aria Appleton is looking to land a lead role in the school musical, but Lindsey, one of her best friends, wins the role. Aria must now figure out a way to trick her into messing up. With the help of her other best friend and sidekick in crime, Ty Jacoby, Aria comes up with a sure way to cheat Lindsay out of the part. At the same time, Aria’s workaholic mom, Christie, leaves on a two-week cruise, so Aria is forced to stay with her babysitter’s unusual family, the Battlefields.
Aria increases her popularity at school by posting funny, yet personal videos of the Battlefields on her blog and then momentarily joins forces with the older kids at school to cheat Lindsay out of her role in the play. However, the Battlefield’s positive and spiritual influence begins to rub off on Aria, and she quickly has second thoughts about messing with Lindsay but realizes it may be too late to stop the events that have been set in motion. Aria heads down a path of no return when the local police begin snooping around, and innocent people begin to get caught up in her schemes. She must ultimately come clean and tell everyone what she has done and face whatever consequences lay ahead.
One of the clearest and most special aspects about this film is the young, talented cast of kids. Aria is played by an adorable, up-and-coming actress, Sara Grace Prejean, and without meaning to sound cheesy, she truly does “shine like the sun” in the film and likely has a long career ahead of her. Stephen Newton, a young boy who is surprisingly witty for his age, plays Ty Jacoby, and Grace Wilson, a sweet young actress who fits the innocent best friend quite well, plays Lindsay. There are a handful of other talented young actors, who fill supporting roles, and they are all very amusing and a great fit for this type of film.
In comical fashion, the director, Nathan, plays Phillip Battlefield, while his real life wife, D’Lytha, plays his on screen wife, Sara Battlefield. Their quirky, over the top, yet genuine portrayal of the Battlefields is spot-on and reminiscent of classic Disney film-families. Christine Galyean, another gifted actress who is a little older than the young kids, plays Naomi Battlefield, Aria’s caring and eccentric babysitter. Sarah Slaughter Hughes does an
outstanding job as Aria’s workaholic, wacky mother, Christie Appleton, and one of my favorite characters in the film, Detective Langward, who is quite entertaining, is played by Jason Davidson, one of the film’s producers and assistant directors.
This film is described as faith-based because of its overall moralistic message, themes of redemption and making good of something bad that has happened, as well as a handful of prayers, songs and lines that involve faith or something spiritual. The creators of the film are Christians as was evident throughout production, but the movie doesn’t force any specific beliefs but rather makes a very light and feel-good, do-good type point.
One of the highlights of the film is the original score with several terrific songs that are sung and often performed by the cast, similar to something you’d find in a Broadway or Hollywood type musical. During filming I knew this was a special part of the movie, but I had no idea how appealing, well written and performed these songs would turn out.
I didn’t realize when we were filming this movie how wacky and wheels-off the content, story, and characters would be. The film uses multiple cut scenes, layers, pop-outs, sound effects, transitions and special effects that really make the movie come alive. Some of these are cartoon like and some are just musical driven scenes that mimic whatever Aria is imagining in her head or playing out what she is describing to the audience. It’s hard to fully put into words how magical these scenes are, but it creates a viewing experience that is enjoyable and engaging.
“Aria Appleton” is uplifting, comical, charming, and fun for the whole family. Young or old, the film has laughs of all kinds. I can honestly say that of all the independent projects I’ve worked on, this one is among the top. And for the kind of low budget a film like this has, along with a “ragtag” group of filmmakers working together for the first time, it’s a miracle that the final product is what it is. The best way to describe this film is to say Disney Channel favorite Lizzie McGuire meets CBS’ Touched by An Angel.
Those of us that work in film production often refer to one project or another as “special”, and this term gets thrown around a lot, but I can truly say that “Aria Appleton: Shines Like The Sun” is a unique film and deserves the best. It’s the people involved that make it a special project.
“Aria Appleton” is not yet rated and is currently seeking distribution. The timeline and means of distribution is yet to be determined, but I hope that audiences everywhere can one day see this film in some form or another.
Those interested in more information can visit www.AriaAppleton.com or look on social media for references to #AriaAppletonMovie, #AriaAppletonFilm, @AriaAppletonfilm, and @AriaAppleton. Specific inquiries can be made to Nathan@GraftedStudios.com. This is the first feature film from Grafted Studios, Inc.
A special thanks to Nathan and D’Lytha Myers, and every cast and crew member than went into making this film.
Hayden Pittman is a special contributor to WFAA.com and a freelance writer, photographer/videographer, and filmmaker in Dallas, TX. You can find more of his work on Selig Film News. He is a film, TV, and sports enthusiast, and when he is not reviewing movies, Hayden works in film production. Don't like what he has to say? Let him know at firstname.lastname@example.org, find him on Facebook, or follow him on Twitter at @HPMoviePitt. Enjoy the movies!