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Monster Island

It's good to be bad in director Leopoldo Aguilar's computer-animated coming-of-age story about a teenager who discovers he is a little monster in every sense. Based on a simplistic screenplay by Billy Frolick, this sporadically amusing if derivative yarn has faint narrative echoes of Hotel Transylvania and Zootropolis but none of those films' charm, rollicking humour and visual sophistication. Monster Island has a pleasing undercurrent of heartfelt emotion that venerates father-son relationships and the power of self-belief. Yet good intentions don't translate to great entertainment, even with the inclusion of a cute animal sidekick (a turquoise lizard called Watson) and feel good choruses of pop hits Bang Bang by Jessie J, Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj, Cheerleader by Omi and Boom Clap by Charli XCX. At a lean 80 minutes, Aguilar's film doesn't outstay its welcome but it is evident from early scenes that there is bountiful padding around a linear plot that could easily be distilled in a sprightly half hour. Animation quality is merely adequate. Characters' faces are painted in broad strokes, water effects in a pivotal sailing sequence ebb between mediocrity and lacklustre, and when animators gear up for an action set piece, it is brief and lacks excitement. The unlikely hero is Lucas (voiced by Phillip Adrian Vasquez), a quick-witted 13-year-old "with a beast of an appetite", who lives with his father Nicolas (Roger L Jackson), owner of Trunk Mechanics. Late one night, Lucas sneaks out of his house to attend a Halloween party hosted by middle school classmate Melanie (Jenifer Kaplan). Alas, the boy forgets his inhaler, which he needs to puff every 24 hours to stave off a mysterious hereditary condition. In the middle of a slow dance, Lucas splutters and metamorphoses into a winged orange creature, terrifying fellow pupils including bully boy Cameron (Michael Robles). "When we turn into teenagers, we also turn into monsters," Nicolas tenderly explains to his incredulous boy, revealing that they hark from an otherworldly island called Calvera, located on the shell of a giant turtle. Stealing an ancient map that "acts like a GPS", Lucas heads to Calvera to meet his grandmother Carlotta (Katie Leigh), who runs a depot store with her purple warthog assistant, Veronica (Fiona Hardingham). Meanwhile, a diabolical scientist named Norcutt (Johnny Rose) abducts island residents with the help of henchmen Durgo (Chuck Kourouklis) and Mongo (Erik Braa) in order to create a potion that harnesses all of their beastly powers. Monster Island lacks the scope, ambition and technical virtuosity to scare up gargantuan box office takings. Vocal performances are forgettable and Frolick's script saunters from A to B with minimum fuss. The plot unravels quicker that a clumsy mummy's bandages and the limited visual palette is the final stake through the film's heart.