A Lesson in Acceptance – A Monster Calls (2016)

Dark themes for a children’s movie.  So this is the story about a young boy (Lewis MacDougall).  He is bullied at school and is facing a rough patch of life, as his terminally ill mother (Felicity Jones) isn’t doing so well.  A tree monster (Liam Neeson) comes into his life to help him sort through his feelings.  Just from the previews of this, you can tell that A Monster Calls has a pretty cool look to it.  The manifestation of a monster to represent a child’s personal demons makes sense, especially given that he is in a situation that is far from ideal.  This is not a movie that dumbs anything down or cuts corners because it is an unpleasant subject, and for that, I have to give this movie credit.

1Everybody loves Groot, right?

The standout element to this movie has to be the art direction.  This is based on an acclaimed novel that has illustrations, and from what I can tell, they’ve brought those pictures to life in this with fluency.  The whole reason why this monster comes to this child is to tell him three stories that are very gray in morals.  When it is story time with the tree monster, that is when this movie is at its best.  It breaks away from live action and does animated sequences that are dark and breathtaking.  If you recall the Tale of the Three Brothers sequence from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, you will know exactly what I am talking about.  It just knocks your socks off, and you’re anxious to get to the next story… but it only really does it twice.  I was personally waiting to get back to it after the first one blew me away, but just to set the appropriate expectation, you shouldn’t get your hopes up for the third story.

2It’s a good movie, and I just don’t want you to feel disappointed for that part like I did.

I do like this movie, but it does have a pet peeve of mine in that this features a child throwing tantrums.  A lot.  And I get it, he’s angry, he’s in a bad situation and he doesn’t really have an active father figure in his life, but it still irks me when I see something that could be interpreted as being bratty on film, even though I comprehend where he is coming from.  I think MacDougall acts very well here, and so much of this movie rests on his small shoulders; he is acting off a giant CGI effect, which couldn’t have been easy for a 14 year-old.  It’s never boring, and you always want to see how this story will play out.  I like the artistic expression, and for the most part, I can blur my eyes to overlook my nitpicks.

A Monster Calls (2016) ***1/2

– Critic for Hire

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