A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this surreal French film about bad dreams is full of nightmare-inducing imagery include menacing cyborg-like men who have replaced their eyes with old camera lenses, creepy faces distorted by wide-angle lenses and CGI rapid aging, and an opening invasion by nasty Santa Clauses. Children are menaced, with kidnapping, violence, betrayal, and with death -- drowning and strangulation. There is brief showgirl nudity in a nightclub scene and scene of coy sexy talk. Violence includes bloody faces, an impaling, near-shootings and fatal explosions (still, mayhem is minor for an R-rated movie). Characters smoke and drink. Most versions of the film require reading of subtitles (and "bitch" comes up in translated dialogue). A childlke grown man and a precocious little girl are a "romantic" lead couple -- but there's no sexual contact between them.
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What's the story?
In a mad-science lab at sea the rogue results of unwise genetic tinkering conduct their own experiments on human children kidnapped from the town. The mutants include a dwarf woman, six bumbling clones, a brain in a tank, and the boss, a spindly synthetic fiend called Krank (Daniel Emilfork), superintelligent but lacking a human soul, which he tries to gain by stealing dreams from the captive children. The rebellious brain -- named Irvin -- has decided enough is enough and subverts Krank's efforts by secretly poisoning the kids' dreams into nightmares. Meanwhile back on land, a carnival strongman named One (Ron Perlman) loses his adopted "little brother" to the clutches of the Cyclopses, a monkish brotherhood who have replaced their eyes, cyborg-style, with creepy camera-lens implants. It turns out they have been supplying children to Krank. One teams up with stoic, streetwise waif Miette (Judith Vittet) to fight the baddies and find the lost kids.
Is it any good?
CITY OF LOST CHILDREN is a breathtakingly one-of-a-kind fantasy, not easy to follow or figure out but an incredible ride in getting there. Somehow it successfully gene-splices sci-fi "cyberpunk" with scraps of Jules Verne, fairy-tale innocence, exquisite CGI f/x and carnival-midway surrealism. From an opening nightmare sequence of bad Santas it escalates the wonder, weirdness, and pathos, right until the eerie closing theme song, with a showstopper cliffhanger ending. It may not surprise anyone this was a costly money loser in its native France, its eccentricities a turnoff to mainstream audiences. But for broad-minded parents not discouraged by the way-out elements it's a spellbinder for mature teens and up.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the unusual style of the film. Was it off-putting or hard to follow? How does it compare to American movies you've seen?
Did the surreal style of the movie change your impression of the violence? Did it seem less realistic, or more creepy?
Talk about some of the themes in the movie -- the search for a soul, the need for human connection, resilience in the face of horror and loneliness.
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