Distributed by National Film Board of Canada, 1123 Broadway, Suite 307, New York, NY 10010; 800-542-2164
Produced by Michael Fukushima, David Verrall
Directed by Louise Johnson
VHS, color, 5 min.
K - High School
Reviewed by Karen Plummer, University of Akron, Akron, OH
This delightful animated short feature takes the "monster under the bed" fear to a different level. The feature opens with the monster having completed his nightly haunting of one home as we see a light pop on in conjunction with a scream. The monster hops out of the home and is ready for his next nightly visit.
The home he visits next has three children; a young preschool-aged girl named JoJo, her preteen brother Tom, and her teenaged sister. JoJo is wary of her bedroom, turning on the light and checking under the bed from a safe distance before she turns off the light and quickly runs to the bed shivering in fear. All the monster has to do is crack his knuckles to send JoJo screaming under the covers. He laughs and moves to Tom's room. Tom is a typical preteen boy, with posters of monsters and monster figures in his room. The monster looks at these with disdain then makes enough noise to wake the boy, while changing himself from a leaf-less tree into a monster-shadow on the wall. Although he has to work a little harder to scare Tom, his is pleased with the results and moves on.
His final destination is the teenaged girl's room where he faces his greatest challenge. Nothing he does seems to affect the sleeping girl. In frustration he begins leafing through one of her magazines and realizes that her fears are based on her insecurities about her body image so he whispers in her ear, causing her to dream. Her dream shows her anxiety about her weight, the size of her breasts, her waist, her hair, and her skin and as she wakes up screaming in fear, the monster's job is done.
The 3D digital animation techniques used in this feature are extremely well done, particularly the monster's rather "formless" form that is easily adaptable to sliding under doors or taking other shapes as necessary. The soundtrack is appropriately spooky, and there is no dialogue.
The accompanying discussion guide is designed to be used with young audiences. It includes a series of pre-viewing questions ranging from "Think of the word fear. Give examples of common ones" to "Is dissatisfaction with looks usually based on fact or self-perception?" Post-viewing questions with corresponding activities is also included. An example of an activity is:
Study three magazines popular with the females and males in your class. Explore these questions about the covers: How many of the articles advertised deal with body image or self-esteem? What language is used to entice the reader? Is the tone generally positive or negative? Is the element of fear present in the choice of words? Inside the magazine: What percentage of the articles is devoted to achieving the right look... especially the right body? In the ads, do the models conform to today's image of the perfect body? How do you think these magazines contribute to a teenager's body image and self-esteem?
Emphasize the fact that the photos of models that appear in magazines do not represent reality. The photo session to get that one perfect shot may take hours or days. And the photos are then airbrushed to eliminate the slightest imperfections.
A Monster's Calling could be used at the K-12 level, particularly in health classes or in discussions focusing on self-image, self-esteem, fear, and anxiety. This feature would also be a great addition to animation collections. Recommended.