A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Games Maker is a 2014 fantasy movie about a young boy whose recently discovered skill in creating innovative board games leads him on a journey to find his grandfather, rescue his parents, and escape from a dreary private school. There is bullying: In the private school, kids calling themselves the Lofties bully the lead character by threatening to cut off his arm with gestures and ransom notes backing up this threat, as well as attempting to remove a temporary tattoo with sandpaper. There is also some over-the-top cartoonish violence: The wicked headmaster of a private school is hit in the head with a cricket ball; the school sinks into a swamp, endangering the lives of the students and instructors; and in a flashback scene, the father of the antagonist is shown getting lost in a labyrinth, which leads to his demise.
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What's the story?
When Ivan Drago (David Mazouz) enters a contest to see who can create the best board game, his life takes a drastic turn. His parents disappear in a balloon race, and he is then sent to a dreary orphanage run by severe authority figures as well as a group of bully students who call themselves the Lofties. Recently informed of the existence of his grandfather (Ed Asner) -- himself a board game designer and manufacturer who lives in the faraway village of Zyl -- Ivan, with the help of an "invisible girl" named Anunciacion who lives in a hidden room in the school, must find a way to escape the school and get to Zyl to meet this long-lost grandfather. When he gets to Zyl, he finds it nearly abandoned, and it's there where his grandfather tells him about Morodian, the wicked CEO of the rival board game company who has been trying to use its contests to prevent Ivan from continuing the family legacy. Ivan must find Morodian, defeat him once and for all, find out if his parents are still alive, and prove that he deserves to be a master at inventing board games.
Is it any good?
With its stylized set designs and creative use of color to set mood, THE GAMES MAKER has some enjoyable aspects. However, the movie is marred by an unwieldy plot filled with too many backstories, elements that feel forced (the "invisible girl" whose sole reason for existence seems to be to give the movie a female counterpart), and parts that feel a little too similar to a certain enormously popular book and movie franchise in which kids attend an unusual private school.
With all those factors, by the time young Ivan meets his archrival in board game creation, all the quirkiness cannot overcome the sense of the movie trying too hard. It doesn't make the movie awful, but it also doesn't make it as good as it might have been had there been some tightening in the overall story arc. And that's something the Technicolor of the good places contrasted with the dreary grays of the bad places cannot cover up.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about fantasy movies. What are some of the elements of a fantasy movie? How is this movie similar to and different from others in the genre?
How are colors used to create moods in this movie? What if Ivan's private school hadn't been mostly gray colors, in contrast with the bright colors of the homes of his parents and grandparent?
How is bullying addressed in this movie? Are there any realistic consequences for the bullying in this movie?
- In theaters: June 1, 2014
- On DVD or streaming: January 5, 2016
- Cast: David Mazouz, Megan Charpentier, Ed Asner
- Director: Juan Pablo Buscarini
- Studio: Entertainment One
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Adventures, Misfits and Underdogs
- Run time: 90 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Last updated: March 13, 2020
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