A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Monster Island is an animated, comic tale of a teen boy who discovers that he really isn’t human at all. Hidden inside of the “boy” is a gigantic, flying monster with magical abilities and a fearsome appearance. An unabashed metaphor for the upheaval that is adolescence -- in dialogue the unexpected hero is told "when we turn into teenagers, we turn into monsters" -- the boy discovers as much about himself as he does about the bizarre land from which he comes. The movie is filled with spooky images, eerie music, and lots of cartoon violence. Though the filmmakers attempt to leaven the action with humor -- the assorted monstrous creatures are as funny as they are powerful -- expect frequent cartoon fighting, explosions, fires, crashes, chases, electric shocks, scary fanged dogs, a wicked scientist who imprisons and experiments on his victims. (Spoiler alert: also included is the violent death of a loved one.) Leading characters lose consciousness in the heat of battle, their survival questionable for a brief time. This is not a movie for little kids. The scares come often. They're loud too, with cackling, often grotesque bad guys who may be funny to kids already comfortable with cartoon jeopardy, but could terrify little ones.
What's the story?
Lucas (Philip Vasquez) is almost 15, wants to be one of the crowd, but he just doesn't cut it in MONSTER ISLAND. Nicholas, his hard-working single dad (Roger L. Jackson), doesn't help matters by being overly protective. One night, throwing caution to the wind, Lucas disobeys his dad, sneaks out of the house, and goes to the "biggest party of the year." Bullies show up at the party, and Lucas is made the butt of a very cruel joke. Astonishing everyone, most of all himself, Lucas is unexpectedly transformed. He becomes a monster, an actual otherworldly monster who unleashes a fearsome strength. Back at home, in his own body, Lucas's dad finally tells him of his true origins. Both dad and son alike are monsters -- their appearance and powers kept in check by an inhaler that they use every day. And all this time, Lucas thought it was medicinal! When it's revealed that his family comes from a magical place called "Monster Island," Lucas once again disobeys his dad and takes off looking for answers to his bizarre new truth. Making his way to the island on a daring voyage, Lucas does find answers. Amidst a population of all sizes and shapes of monsters, a grandmother he never knew, a sweet-spirited female orphan, and a destructive, villainous uncle, Lucas learns the true story of his past. Gathering his wits, his newfound strength, and extraordinary courage, the boy takes on the evil that lurks on the island, fighting for his family and all who live there.
Is it any good?
There's a certain charm to the angular, simple animation and oddball creatures that fill the screen in this comic-scarefest for kids, but attempts to mirror teen miseries don't add up to much. What's more, the cartoon action feels more insidious and brutal than most other movies for middle grades. The villain resorts to torture, captivity, and deadly mayhem, cackling and preening in his maliciousness. It doesn't help that in order to explain his present-day behavior, audiences witness in flashback a terrible mistake that he made, which resulted in the horrifying death of a key character. Still, there are funny moments, clever creatures, and a likeable, relatable hero. Though an English-language film, Monster Island is a Mexican production.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the violence in Monster Island. Is the mayhem less scary when the monsters are funny? Why or why not? Talk about the impact of media violence on kids even when it's animated.
Lucas's dad decided to keep a stunning secret from his son. Do you agree or disagree with that decision? Is honesty always "the best policy," or are there times when the truth may be hurtful? How do you determine which action is best? Think of some instances in which you've had to make such a choice.
Fantasize for a moment that you are Lucas. Would you choose to remain on Monster Island, or would you want to be back in school as a human teen? If Lucas did come back to his old life, how would it be different? How would he be different?
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