A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Mail Order Monster is a live-action film about a young girl dealing with grief, bullying, and the prospect of a new stepmother. The movie uses some animated sequences (in comic-book style) to soften some of the painful moments the heroine experiences, including the traumatic car accident that killed her mom. The crash is implied rather than shown. Bullying includes name-calling, teasing, physical intimidation (she's stuffed into a locker), and one particularly cruel put-down. Adults, also going through changes, are responsible, loving, and compassionate, though the 12-year-old is often unsupervised -- even at night -- in the small town they live in. Spoiler alert: There's some unexpected violence at the film's conclusion when the otherwise friendly "monster" turns on some of the story's heroes (by choking and hitting) in a misguided effort to protect his maker. Gunshots are fired off-camera. OK for most tweens.
What's the story?
In MAIL ORDER MONSTER, Sam Pepper (Madison Horcher) is a smart 12-year-old girl still trying to cope with the accidental death of her mom three years earlier. To make matters worse, she's bullied at school, and her devoted dad, Roy (Josh Hopkins), has fallen in love with Sydney (Charisma Carpenter), the woman who may become her stepmother! In a last-ditch effort to cope with her sadness and isolation, Sam sends for a mail-order robot advertised in a vintage comic book. As she assembles and gets to know the strange, Frankenstein-like creature, it appears that Sam finally has a friend. But it's difficult keeping him a secret -- especially because he walks and talks. As their relationship builds, Sam begins to find her courage. She takes the necessary first steps to stop the bullying. However, when Roy tells his daughter that he's asked Sydney to marry him, Sam is devastated once again. She acts out in ways her dad never expected, culminating in a scene in which her cheerful robot turns out to be much more than she bargained for.
Is it any good?
A well-intentioned effort to deal with important issues in a fresh way, along with some solid performances, should engage young audiences. Madison Horcher is wonderful as Sam; Josh Hopkins makes a great dad. The robot is purposefully old-school, and there's a certain charm about its shuffling, awkward style. Writer-director Paulina Lagudi delivers a warmhearted tale, but it's long, and lots of simple questions arise that go unanswered. For example, wouldn't Roy challenge Sam's late-night arrival home from school detention? Also, there's magic afoot here, but opportunities missed, like the mystery of how an ad in a vintage comic book could be answered. Still, Mail Order Monster's virtues make up for its imperfections, and it's worth a look.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the violence in Mail Order Monster. Were you surprised by the robot's behavior in the final scenes of the movie? Did you like the unexpected turn in that character? Why or why not? Did the sequence fit in with the basic tone and style of the story? Why or why not?
Bullying is a big problem for kids. P.J. was very cruel to Sam. Did you agree with Sam's chosen method of "payback"? What did P.J. learn? Do you think Sam was right to forgive her? How do you and/or your friends deal with bullies?
Big changes are often hard for kids. Sam says about her dad: "I don't know why he's trying to move on." Can you answer that question for her? What significant changes have you had to make in your life? How does the passage of time affect difficult transitions?
- On DVD or streaming: November 6, 2018
- Cast: Madison Horcher, Josh Hopkins, Charisma Carpenter
- Director: Paulina Lagudi
- Studio: Film Mode Entertainment
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Friendship, Middle School, Misfits and Underdogs, Robots
- Run time: 89 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Last updated: April 23, 2020
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