Forbidden from ever playing any kind of game, Ivan Drago (David Mazouz) finally taps into his imagination after winning a comic book at the fair with a board game contest listed inside. Ivan begins creating board games, eventually winning the contest. The only prize is a press-on tattoo of the companies logo, but when his father (Tom Cavanagh) sees it, he becomes very upset. He tells Ivan that his grandfather (Edward Asner) was a famous board game inventor, but before Ivan can learn anything else, his parents disappear during a hot air balloon race. Forced to live at a boarding school, Ivan befriends Anunciacion (Megan Charpentier), a girl who lives in the walls and the one person who helps Ivan unravel the mystery of his family legacy as board game makers.
Juan Pablo Buscarini co-writes and directs The Games Maker, based on a novel by Pablo De Santis, and delivers a fantastic family adventure with a touch of darkness. It feels a lot like Hugo but with a focus on board games instead of film, and it provides the exact same kind of entertainment. Buscarini manages to create an adventure that will appeal to kids and adults, and never treats younger viewers like little kids, something so many children’s films wind up doing.
Mazouz is wonderful as Ivan, who is filled with curiosity and confidence. Nothing will stop him from learning the secrets of his life and the mystery behind his parents disappearance. He’s outspoken and ambitious and provides the kind of role model that every child should have. Unfortunately the same can’t be said for co-star Megan Charpentier. Her character plays a rather important role in events, but isn’t very well developed. Without her Ivan would be stuck, but she never really feels as important as she truly is.
It’s not a dealbreaker for The Games Maker, but it certainly feels like a wasted opportunity. That’s even more obvious when the film is almost two hours long. There’s plenty of time to add a little depth to the character of Anunciacion, but it’s never used for that purpose. The film is quite full though. Despite the longer running time, there isn’t a wasted moment. Younger viewers may start to squirm in their seats a little, but there really isn’t more than a few brief moments that could be excised from the film without harming it.
It’s paced well and has plenty of magical moments to enjoy as well as a string of villainous characters who are perfectly comical and menacing at the same time. The Games Maker is the perfect film for families seeking a bit more imaginative and intelligent entertainment.