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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that some of the characters, fantasy violence, and suspense in A Babysitter's Guide to Monster Hunting are definitely meant to frighten. All of the action, based on the first book in author Joe Ballarini's series, takes place on a dark Halloween night. The monstrous Grand Guignol (Tom Felton) is made to look particularly creepy, with a pronged tail, elongated limbs, and scarred facial features. While his behavior wavers between menacing and somewhat goofy, he does threaten, hypnotize, and abduct a child with the goal of stealing the scary creatures of the boy's nightmares. The mostly female members of a secret society of teenage babysitters display courage and considerable knowledge to take on the Guignol, his monsters known as "Toadies," and a witch who lives in a gothic mansion with hundreds of lethal cats. The heroes put themselves and even a newborn baby in harm's way to fight the villains, including a tentacle "shadow monster" that turns things to ash and chases a girl around a house. Killing the Guignol involves punching a potion into his heart. The kidnapped boy shows impressive courage in confronting both the Guignol and his dream creatures. Some realistic teen scenes take place in high school -- where kids tease the insecure main character, calling her "monster girl" -- and at a high school party, where teens flirt with each other and drink punch out of red plastic cups. Other taunts include "twerp," "blithering idiot," "pathetic loser," and "sad, small, cruel, insignificant little heart."
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What's the story?
Kelly Ferguson's high school peers call her "Monster Girl" because she has long held that a monster appeared out of her dreams as a child in A BABYSITTER'S GUIDE TO MONSTER HUNTING. One Halloween night when Kelly (Tamara Smart) is called on to babysit young Jacob (Ian Ho), she discovers that her childhood memory was actually real. Jacob is kidnapped by the same extravagant boogeyman that had appeared in her bedroom, known as "The Grand Guignol" (Tom Felton), and his monster minions, the "Toadies." As Kelly tries to figure out what to do, Liz Lerue (Oona Laurence) pulls up on a motorcycle and the two girls take off to hunt down the monsters and save Jacob. Liz is a member of a secret international society of babysitters who protect kids from monsters. Their rush to save Jacob before the Grand Guignol succeeds in stealing the creatures from the boy's nightmares and unleashing them on the world (and before Jacob's mom gets home), will take them into abandoned parks, underground lairs, cat-infested mansions, and even a high school party.
Is it any good?
A combination of Halloween-timed scares, teen angst, and girl power make this a fun watch for tweens. There's plenty in A Babysitter's Guide to Monster Hunting for that target group. Smart and Laurence make a solid duo, and an early slow-motion scene of Kelly walking down a high school corridor manages in seconds to capture the loneliness and anxiety of an insecure teen. Harry Potter fans are likely to be drawn by Felton (aka Draco Malfoy) and may see echoes of Potter dementors in Jacob's nightmare creatures. Likewise, the shadow monster feels reminiscent of Stranger Things' demogorgons.
Felton is a little over-the-top in his Mick Jagger-inspired boogeyman. He's not meant to be a realistic character, but he's neither fully scary nor solely campy, and it's a mix that never quite gels. One funny sequence sees him desperately trying everything to get a child to sleep; parents and babysitters will relate. The filmmakers have done a good job of bringing the imagined world to life, infusing the secret babysitter society with historical references and international flair, and setting it all to a moody pop soundtrack. The action is limited to a single, dark night (Halloween), and the sets range from everyday houses to colorfully cartoonish lairs and darkly gothic mansions. Surely a franchise is in mind, considering the film is based on the first in a trilogy of books and ends with a detailed look at the Grand Guignol's sister, Serena the Spider Queen, who is still at large with a main character's kidnapped brother apparently in her web.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the power of nightmares. Have you ever had recurring nightmares or dreams that felt real? How did you cope with them?
Have you read the bookA Babysitter's Guide to Monster Hunting is based on? If so, how did it compare? If not, did the film inspire you to read the trilogy of books? Should film adaptations always follow the book closely? Why or why not?
The International Order of the Babysitters references a number of historical figures, like Joan of Arc, Florence Nightingale, and Frida Kahlo, among others. What names did you recognize? What do you think these people have in common, if anything?
Did the monsters in this film remind you of creatures in any other movies you've watched? If so, which ones?
- On DVD or streaming: October 15, 2020
- Cast: Tamara Smart, Oona Laurence, Tom Felton
- Director: Rachel Talalay
- Studio: Netflix
- Genre: Action/Adventure
- Topics: STEM, Magic and Fantasy, Adventures, Book Characters, Friendship, High School, Monsters, Ghosts, and Vampires
- Character strengths: Courage
- Run time: 98 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- MPAA explanation: TV-PG: Fear, Language, Fantasy Violence
- Last updated: May 11, 2021
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