J.A. Bayona, the director of The Orphanage and The Impossible, brings to the big screen another tale of grief to join fall’s Arrival and December’s Manchester by the Sea, and though this family film holds no surprises, it is a beautifully crafted A Christmas Carol with sadness substituting for greed. With his mother (Felicity Jones) dying, 12-year-old Connor (Lewis MacDougall) meets a monster (voiced by Liam Neeson with expected gravity and warmth) who promises to tell three stories before asking Connor to tell him a fourth, the boy’s own nightmare.
Bayona mixes live action, CGI and gorgeous watercolor animation into a sumptuous painting of anger and grief. While the monstrous metaphor may be a bit on the nose and the narrative straight as an arrow, A Monster Calls will please moviegoers looking for a family film that trods the path less traveled. Just don’t expect the destination to be anywhere other than exactly where you would expect.