This website always complains about the state of family friendly films that arrive in the marketplace. They are almost always horrible. They substitute any real emotion with cheap laughs (i.e. fart jokes) and typically condescend towards kids. Millions seemed like another case. On the surface, it looked like one of those lame foreign films that capitalized on a cute kiddy protagonist (like Valentin) to cover up for other deficiencies. Well, this reviewer was happy to be wrong. Millions is a wonderful, family friendly fable about choosing between right and wrong. It is one of the better all ages films in recent memory that does not have the brains of Pixar behind it. And it comes from, of all people, Danny Boyle. Boyle (The Beach) is best known for directing films like Trainspotting, Shallow Grave, and 28 Days Later. Needless to say, he's not the name that immediately springs to mind when one thinks of family entertainment. But sometimes it takes an outsider to make a really good genre film. Kevin Smith turned Dogma into a fascinating dialogue on religion, Chris and Paul Weitz made the delicate About a Boy, and Tim Burton showed his inner softie with Big Fish.

The reason that Boyle shifts so easily from dark humor to wide-eyed optimism is his sense of imagination. Imagination is what allows him to be so over-the-top in some of his earlier films, and suits him very well here. Millions relies on the imagination of children. Boyle is able to visualize what is going through the head of its protagonists, bringing to life what it feels like to be a child. It is this unfettered sense of imagination, coupled with a smart screenplay by Frank Cottrell Boyce (Code 46, 24 Hour Party People) that has children acting like real children, and not kids in movies, and brings in a sense of unlimited optimism, yet another thing rarely seen in films. These kids are not there to be cute (they still have that effect, though). They ask tough questions, and wrestle with what they think is right and wrong. It's neat, and kind of sad, that the best place to currently see a great family film is in an art house.

The story begins with Ronnie (James Nesbitt, Bloody Sunday, Lucky Break) relocating his two sons, Damian (Alex Etel) and Anthony (Lewis McGibbon). Their mother died, a fact which Anthony enjoys using to get free goodies from sympathetic strangers. Damian can rattle off the names, birth and death dates for the Catholic saints, something that makes him come off as very weird to other students. Starting over at a new school is hard, and Damian copes by building a fortress of cardboard boxes and imagining conversations with saints. Two large bags of money slam into his boxes, and when he realizes that his brother can see it (therefore it's real, not a part of his fantasy world), the two are stupefied. They have about 230 thousand Pounds, which, due to the impending switchover the Euro, will be rendered worthless.

So what can they do with the money? Anthony wants to spend it, and Damian wants to give it away to the poor. Anthony immediately begins making friends and buying new clothes and, more amusingly, a posse. Damian continues his plans behind Anthony's back, treating the homeless to pizza and donating large amounts of money to the local Mormons. Damian, who is far too cute for his own good, is much too worried about doing wrong, so he is very wary about Anthony's plans. Still, Anthony is older and stronger, so he tends to get his way. Ronnie and Dorothy (Daisy Donovan, Parting Shots, Still Crazy), a woman soliciting money for wells in Africa, soon get involved. The moral dilemma is, if the money is going to be destroyed, do they still have a duty to return it? Given all the bad things that happened to the family, can't they look at is as a gift from God?

Millions sounds very sappy, and it is at times, but because of Boyle's stylistic touches, it works very well. As Anthony and Damien literally watch their house build itself in seconds before their eyes. To illustrate how much money they have, Boyle has them stack it up like a Jenga tower, and spread it out all over the floor. He does all of this with rapid, music video-like editing. The various saints that appear (complete with halos) to Damian serve as visible voices for his conscience. Boyle and Boyce also have a mischievous streak of humor running through the film, from some of its minor characters (the Mormons and a local security officer) to Damian's perfect memory of how each saint died. But the real strength of the script is its ability to present a moral lesson without sounding excessively preachy. Even better, it reaches some surprising emotional highs, and adults and children can enjoy it together. The last element is a real rarity in today's marketplace.

Mongoose Rates It: Really Good.
1 hour, 37 minutes, Rated PG for thematic elements, language, some peril and mild sensuality.

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