Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
Monster Island. Directed by Leopoldo Aguilar, from a script by Billy Frolick & Alicia Núñez Puerto. Sony Home Pictures Entertainment, September 12, 2017, 80 minutes, direct-to-DVD, $14.99.
Distributed in the U.S. & Canada by Vision Films (Sherman Oaks, California). Produced by Ánima Estudios (México City).
Is Monster Island worth an article for DP? How can we ignore any movie with a character like Verónica, the pig-girl?
This 80-minute CGI animated movie premiered theatrically on July 21st in the U.K. It got devastating reviews. Newspaper The Guardian said the day before, “… it’s […] dispiriting to encounter this ploddingly mediocre knockoff, with its budget effects, utterly uninspired visual design and flatlining dialogue. […] The whole forgettable movie looks as if it has been generated by ageing software.” As if that wasn’t enough, The Guardian followed it up with an even worse review three days later. “There are few things more unpleasant to look at than bad animation. And Monster Island’s Technicolor yawn of regurgitated influences is monstrous in all the wrong ways. The eyeball-melting colour palette is just the tip of the tentacle – this is a cobbled-together, plotless mess […]” It got a 14% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s just been released theatrically in South Korea (September 7th) and China (September 9th). We get it in the U.S. as a direct-to-DVD “family entertainment” (kids’ movie) release.
Lucas Frunk (voice of Philip Adrian Vasquez) is a stereotypical 13-year-old nerd at Brown Middle School. His best pal is also-nerdish Peter Kavinsky. They are both picked on by school bully Cameron (voice of Michael Robles) and made to do his science class experiments (the frog explodes). Lucas discovers the hard way at school social queen Melanie’s (Jenifer Beth Kaplan) Halloween dance that his “asthma inhaler” actually delivers a medicine that keeps him from turning into a towering orange ogre.
Nicolas (Roger L. Jackson), Lucas’ dad, confesses that he and his whole family are monsters from Calvera Island (on the back of a giant turtle), where everyone becomes a monster (no two alike) when they reach puberty. His Grandmother Carlotta (Katie Leigh) is still there; his mother Dina died there when he was a baby. Nicolas refuses to say howhis mother died, why he took Lucas and left Monster Island, and why he has been keeping Lucas’ past a secret from him. Lucas angrily objects to not being told until “the time is right” since the “right time” never comes.
Lucas. Using his inhaler to stay human, steals the magic “carta” (map) to Calvera Island to go there alone. Nicolas finds Lucas gone the next day and rushes with Lucas’ pet lizard Watson to Shiro & Kuro, a wise, two-headed slug (Shiro is tall & thin; Kuro is short & fat) to get a new carta to follow Lucas. Shiro & Kuro tell Nicolas he doesn’t need a carta; he can just stop taking his inhaler, turn into a monster, and automatically know how to find the island. Scenes are intercut of Lucas on the island, and Shiro & Kuro humorously trying to turn Nicolas back into a monster (he’s been in his human form too long).
In Calvera City, Lucas meets his grandmother Carlotta and her shop assistant, Veronica (Fiona Hardingham), a pig-girl monster his own age. Lucas learns that he’s come to Calvera at a bad time; people have begun disappearing. Stupid police constables Fergus (the short pumpkin) and Giraldo (tall zombie) decide that since the disappearances coincide with Lucas’ arrival, he must be guilty and follow him.
Lucas learns what the audience has known since the film’s introduction: the villain is a stereotypical “BWAHAHAHA” evil Mad Scientist. We later discover that the Mad Scientist is Lucas’ uncle Norcutt (Johnny Rose), who is also Carlotta’s son. He is the only person on Calvera Island who did not become a monster at puberty. His desperate attempts to “cure his affliction” resulted in the explosion that killed Lucas’ mother. Both Nicolas (and infant Lucas) and Norcutt left the island in self-imposed exile. Now Norcutt, completely mad, has returned with monster assistants Mongo (spider-man) & Durgo (zombie). Norcutt has decided to become more than a unique monster; he will kidnap & kill all the monsters to steal their abilities and become a composite of all their monsterishness. Norcutt has his assistants kidnap Carlotta, his own mother; Lucas and Veronica go to her rescue; Veronica is captured and Lucas is defeated; Lucas discards his inhaler to become a monster to fight Norcutt’s assistants; Lucas’ dad arrives to join him; Norcutt is completely beaten, and Lucas and Nicolas, as monsters, settle down as citizens of Monster Island.
Monster Island (no relation to the Monster Island in the Godzilla movies, or to previous horror movies with the same title) is pretty lackluster, all right. You’d expect the home of monsters to look monsterish. Instead, the town on Calvera Island looks like any other seaside small city, with the monsters stuffed into ordinary clothes, living in ordinary homes, going to work in ordinary buildings, and acting more-or-less like regular people. One of the comic policemen, Fergus, looks like a Halloween pumpkin stuffed into a uniform. His jack-o-lantern head even comes off, rolls away, and has to be retrieved (several times), which may supposedly be funny (does anyone laugh?) but destroys any illusion of a live creature. (And how convincing is it that any municipality looking to create a police force would hire the stupidest, most buffoonish clods they could find?) The sets in The Addams Family, The Munsters, and Hotel Transylvania look more monstrous. Comparisons with Pixar’s Monsters, Inc. and Monsters University are unavoidable, and Monster Island falls short every time.
Granted, Ánima Estudios doesn’t have the CGI capability that Pixar does – look at the attractively stylized but completely unnatural ocean waves and water effects — but its imagination is much shallower, too. The monsters in Monsters, Inc. are mostly nude (except for safety helmets) because they obviously aren’t human shaped and wouldn’t fit into human clothing. The monsters in Monster Island are mostly unimaginatively conventionally dressed, even if they look more grotesque clothed than nude.
Still, the monsters are a form of anthropomorphic animals, particularly Veronica the pig-girl, so it belongs here.
Monster Island is directed by Leopoldo Aguilar and produced by Ánima Estudios in México City. Ánima advertises itself as the largest animation studio in Latin America, founded in 2002. Its theatrical features shown in the U.S. are Top Cat: The Movie (Don Gato y su Pandilla), September 16, 2011; Wicked Flying Monkeys (Guardianes de Oz), April 10, 2015; Top Cat Begins (Don Gato: El Inicio de la Pandilla), October 30, 2015; and The Legend of Chupacabras (La Leyenda del Chupacabras), October 14, 2016 limited*; all of which but the last have anthro animals in them. Ánima has also produced many TV cartoon series, of which Teenage Fairytale Dropouts and Legend Quest have been shown in the U.S.
*La Leyenda del Chupacabras is the fourth in a Halloween/Day of the Dead series, preceded by La Leyenda de la Nahuana (produced by Animex, not Ánima Estudios; November l, 2007), La Leyenda de la Llorona (October 21, 2011), and La Leyenda de las Momias de Guanajuato (October 30, 2014); to be followed by La Leyenda del Charro Negro next year. The others were never released theatrically in the U.S. but have had DVD releases; Chupacabras had a very limited U.S. theatrical release. See also the Legend Quest TV series.
Monster Island is a direct-to-DVD movie here in English and Spanish languages, and English and Spanish subtitles, released on September 12, 2017 by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. It is scheduled to be released theatrically in Mexico on September 15 and in Spain on November 17, under its Spanish-language title, Isla Calaca.
– Fred Patten
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