Analysis Of The Film Adaptations Of The Whale Rider And A Monster Call

Films from novels involve adaptations which stress the themes that the story is seeking to pass. The books The Whale Rider and A Monster Call are about the lives of young children in their developmental phase. The adaptations of these novels in my point of view involve a clear child representation; their experiences have been played to the audience in a more precise way stressing the effects that they have on the characters as compared to the novel version. For sure some changes have to be made on main plot while the theme still remains. In my discussion, the books involved are the Whale Rider and A Monster Call both of which a film has been made based on their stories on childhood development but some changes have been made which in my view make the story to adapt with the lives of the young people.

Whale Rider

The themes in the Whale Rider include bigotry, self-awareness, and governance. Essentially, since a community leader has to be a male, however, Kahu is not appropriate for the position. Koro, the grandfather to Kahu does not willingly accept her, just because she is a girl. In the book, Koro Apirana is in fact, disgusted and we see this in chapter three when he says to Nancy “I will have nothing to do with her. She has broken the male line of descent in our tribe” (Ihimeaera, 13). In the film, even if a little, he has feelings towards the girl. In contrast to the novel, Paka exhibits some kind of concern with his granddaughter. For example, in the opening scene Pai is seen riding on a bicycle with her grandfather, which is a clear form of affection (1987). It creates a degree of reasonability in the film as even if he would be disappointed that a girl was born to his decency, he was still bound to accept her as his granddaughter eventually.

From the story, it is crystal clear that she fits The Whale Rider figure, a privilege that was previously enjoyed by Paikea, her ancestor. In the film, however, this theme is greatly strengthened to the point that instead of calling the girl Kahu, the short form to Kahutia Te Rangi she referred to as Pai the short form to Paikea. The aspect of naming her after a great male ancestor shows that she was indeed destined to be an heir to the leadership. She gives consolation to the whales, a phenomenon that according to the Maori culture is a sign of good luck. The film represents well her development as she walks in the way of her descendants. It shows that not only names but also traits get passed from one generation to the other.

Also in the novel, Rawiri who is the uncle to Kahu is the narrator. The whole story is about the life of Kahu in his angle of view. In the film, it is the girl herself narrating the story. The events occurring are covered in her field of view to the audience of the film. She also accurately describes the Maori culture and history in her perspective. This signifies that even the children are capable of expressing their concerns when given a chance as the story flows smoothly.

The point worth noting is that Kahu is relentlessly distressed with herself by the fact she is a girl. “It’s not Paka’s fault, Nanny, that I’m a girl” (Ihtimaera 87). Moreover, she attains self-discovery by the awareness day by day as she learns that she is no less than a man, and in fact, has more traits of a leader than most boys her age which is seen clearly in the film through her sneaking and learning through the all-male school organized by Koro (1987). She is able to teach herself and practice the lessons being taught on her own, and eventually is able to beat the boys her age at the final task laid out by Koro; finding Koro’s stone. She is also able to go to the deep end in the water to find Koi Apirana’s stone. The specific dialogue that is in both the film and adaptation is “I’ll get it” when she hears that Koro was upset at the other boys failed to succeed in the task. We see in the film that she is able to do so much more than the average boys her age, which foreshadows that she is in fact, carrying leadership traits.

At the end of the film, Kahu fits the figure of the whale rider, and she eventually becomes the tribe’s leader. She unites women of her village but despite this, she says, 'If I were a boy, I would have held on the right. I'm sorry, Paka. I'm not a boy' (Ihitmaera 149). This dialogue was presented in both the novel format and the film, further displaying Pai’s ongoing struggle with accepting herself. However, Paka embraces her finally, and she moves forward in becoming the leader for the other females, and males in her tribe.

A Monster Calls

In contrast, A Monster Calls, the story concerns a young boy named Conor who is about to lose his mother because of a fatal disease (Ness 38). He is managing his experiences with the help of the monster. Though all people have realized his mother’s ailment, Conor senses that he is still invisible. The setting looks at him differently or do not notice him at all. He is tormented in school, yet nobody is talking to him because peers are only glaring at him weirdly. This situation has made him break all his social links and remain attached only to the monster. Cancer is almost killing Conor’s mom, and nothing else is seem as important to him.

The boy has a terrifying dream at night as if his mother falls into a murky hole, and he cannot help her (Ness 40). After such an experience, a monster starts visiting him at 12:07 a.m. every day. It comes in the form of an old tree swaying in the vicinity of the window in the reserved lawn. The adaptation of the film from the novel is more impressive as they can bring out the visual appearance of the monster and its importance to the kid and this shows how the children turn to other objects for comfort whenever stressed (2016).

Everything that is happening around the boy’s life stops affecting him when his mother falls very sick. His grandmother, his other closer relative, could not act as the optional source of help because as the book states, she used to talk to him like an employee who is under evaluation (Ness). However, he is able to cope with his feeling with the help of the yew tree alias the Monster which visited him every night after he woke up from his terrible dreams. In fact, he ends up destroying the furniture in his grandmother’s home, as a sign of clear distress and frustration. Instead of throwing a fit, his grandmother simply asks him to leave (2016). The adaptation of the film from the novel is more impressive as they are able to bring out the visual appearance of the monster and its importance to the kid, as he is able to let out his frustration and show his true feelings.

The edgy relationship Conor has with his grandmother shows the indeed fine in the film. He utters that he does not love her since she speaks rudely to him. Pant suits are what she wears, and her house is full of belongings which cannot be touched (Ness). These circumstances denote that she is not an ordinary grandmother. However, Conor is ultimately learns to accept her towards the end of the film, specifically in the car scene (2016). He bonds with his grandmother and they finally find a means by which they connect; Connor’s mother. This also gives the audience a sigh of relief as we feel Connor may in fact, be okay with letting go of his mother and will have his grandmother to fall back onto.

In the final scene, Connor at last gets relief and lets his mother be free, not coming back. This is when we see him hugging his parent with the monster sharing glances of assurance. As the story ends, we see that Connor had finally got the comfort that he was seeking. The scene where he is facing the monster is also brought, and this symbolizes the strong bond between him and the monster was the same with the one that he shared with his mother. This stresses the theme that children may grow some attachment to some things or events, for example, the parents, friends, church or school. Due to unavoidable circumstances, these things may cease to be available for them, and they may be forced to opt to other sources for consolation which in this case was the monster.

In contrast, Kahu in Whale Rider is facing obstacles in her quest to become the leader of her tribe. Taking into account the fact that she is a girl, people including her grandfather cannot approve of her or even comprehend her desires. We also see the young boy Conor experiencing challenges, and nobody understands or even sees him. He is struggling with a sick mother. Both of the characters have serious life dilemmas, and they have to make an important decision against the will of other people around them. We see that both Kahu and Conor become seemingly discontented in the conditions they live, but they learn to consent their problems, and the end of the films, their attitude changes and both have good outcomes. For example, Kahu and her grandfather accept each other and come closer. On the other hand, Conor together with his grandmother also become more friendly and sincere.

The film adaptation is the better version of both the stories as it stresses the themes and brings the emotions better than the written novels. Both A Monster Calls and The Whale Rider stories are a representation of children at the development phase. The whale is about Kahu, a young girl who turns out to be the saviour of the Maori. A Monster Callsl is the story of Connor, a young boy who has a tough social life but ends up getting consolation from a monster.

The changes in the adaptations give a positive representation of the young and inspiring depiction of individuals battling with defeat, fear, and grief and finally proving that it is possible to win if you have determination. In both cases of A Monster Calls and Whale Rider, there is a clear demonstration of all the struggles and challenges the juniors face in the journey of finding themselves and becoming what they desire and choose to be. We actually see a good typical representation of youth through Kahu, a girl whose dream to become a community leader is at the mercy of her customs of her community, some of which are barbaric, and Conor, finally being able to let his mother go.


Reading the novel format outlines the story chronologically. However, the film adaptations for both these novels have undergone some modifications so as to fit in the situations that face these children in a visual manner. The emotional impression is also provided by these films that make the audience to accurately. The changes in the adaptations give a positive representation of the young and inspiring depiction of individuals battling with defeat, fear, and grief and finally proving that it is possible to win if you have determination. From the two stories, we can conclude that children face many challenges while growing up. They grow fears, aspirations, likes and dislikes to various components that are in their immediate environment. The film has also strengthened the importance of various characters, for example, Kahu in Whale Rider and Connor and the monster in A Monster Calls.

Works cited

  • A Monster Calls. Directed by Juan Antonia Bayona, performances by Lewis McDougall, Sigourney Weaver, Felicity Jones, Toby Kebbell, and James Melville. Participant Media. 2016
  • Ilhimaera, Witi. Whale Rider. London. Penguin Group. 1987
  • Ness, Patrick. A Monster Calls. Illustrated by Jim Kay, Massachusets. Candlewick Press. 2011.
  • Whale Rider. Directed by Niki Caro, performances by Keisha Castle-Hughes, Rawiri Paratene, Vicky Haughton, Cliff Curtis, and Grant Roa. New Zealand Film Commission.
16 August 2021
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