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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Phantom Boy is an animated French crime thriller and adventure (released in both subtitled and English-dubbed versions) from the filmmakers behind A Cat in Paris. The noir-like movie has some violence (explosions, fights, peril, etc.) and disturbing hospital scenes that make it best suited for mature pre-teens who can both read the subtitles and handle the darker elements -- including criminals wielding weapons and taking people (and an entire city) hostage and the deaths/near-deaths of significant characters. In one scene, a boy's spirit ends up in a strip club, where he sees a nearly naked woman dancing in front of him -- but viewers only see her bare lower legs walking around on the stage as an adult reminds the boy to cover his eyes. Language is mostly angrily muttered insults like "imbecile," "idiot," and more. The movie offers strong role models, as well as positive messages about the power of teamwork, friendship, family, and courageous acts of kindness and goodwill.
What's the story?
PHANTOM BOY takes place in New York City, but everyone speaks French (reflecting the movie's country of origin, though an English-dubbed version is also available). The 11-year-old protagonist is a chronically ill boy named Leo (voiced by Gaspard Gagnol in the French version, Marcus D'Angelo in the English dub) who has loving parents and a little sister who support him as he spends time undergoing treatment at a city hospital. What makes Leo extraordinary is that his (unnamed) terminal disease has imbued him with the ability to have ghostly out-of-body experiences that allow him to wander and observe and even help others, all while his physical body remains still and alive back in the hospital. As long as he can travel back to his body before his ghost body disintegrates, he's good. When a disfigured criminal mastermind (Jean-Pierre Marielle / Vincent D'Onofrio) holds the entire city hostage with outrageous demands, Leo teams up with Alex (Edouard Baer / Jared Padalecki), a brave but hospitalized cop, and his friend, Mary (Audrey Tautou / Melissa Disney), an investigative reporter, to use his supernatural gift to help take down the bad guy.
Is it any good?
Powerful and poignant, this noirish adventure is both a love letter to New York and a tribute to the courage of its terminally ill young hero. Like other recent French animated films, the film is stylized and colorful, with unforgettably interesting looking characters and cityscapes. The relationship between Leo and Alex is beautifully depicted, as are the tense, emotional interactions between Leo, his parents, and his little sister, who's believably always interested in playing and reading with her older brother. Despite his supernatural ability, Leo is an authentic character: a boy caught between an unthinkably difficult reality as a chronically sick patient and the unbelievable ability to soar above the clouds and observe anything he wants in the entire city. Like a superhero, he comes to terms with his responsibility to use his gift for the greater good -- not just to see his family or wander around New York.
Phantom Boy's darker noir elements include the maniacal crime boss and his two dim-bulb goons, who act as a comic relief in some of the more intense moments. In one scene, the henchmen try to record their boss explaining how he got disfigured, but things go hilariously awry, and the boss nearly kills them out of anger -- but it's all fairly funny. That said, the action can definitely be pulse-pounding and tense, since foreign movies don't always end in the same happily-ever-afters that American audiences are used to. But ultimately this is a lovely character study. The three brave characters (Leo, Mary, and Alex) stand out as they attempt to save the City from the grips of the Joker-style madman, but it's the quiet moments between Leo and his family and friends that will affect audiences most.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the violence in Phantom Boy. Is it necessary to the story? Do different types of violence impact kids differently? Does that impact change when the violence is animated? Why or why not?
Why do you think the filmmakers never name Leo's illness? What did you think it was? If you had the same ability as Leo, how would you use it?
How does this movie compare to mainstream, Hollywood-made animated movies? Do you think it's important to see movies from other parts of the world, the way the rest of the world sees Hollywood movies?
- In theaters: July 15, 2016
- On DVD or streaming: November 8, 2016
- Cast: Audrey Tautou, Édouard Baer, Jean-Pierre Marielle, Fred Armisen, Vincent D'Onofrio, Jared Padalecki
- Director: Alain Gagnol
- Studio: GKIDS
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Friendship, Great Boy Role Models
- Character strengths: Courage, Teamwork
- Run time: 84 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: thematic elements, violence and a suggestive situation
- Awards/Honors: Common Sense Selection
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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