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Being a Nerd Dad: Family Movie Night with Nocturna

Some weeks when Friday night rolls around, game night takes more energy than we can muster. On those nights, we put on pajamas, pop some popcorn, and settle in for family movie night.

This week, we chose Nocturna. 

No, not the 2015 horror film about New Orleans vampires. This one…

What’s Nocturna All About?

Nocturna follows a little orphan boy named Tim.


Even among the orphans with whom Tim shares a home, he is a loner and an outsider. The other children mock him for his fear of the dark. That fear leads him to drag his bed across the room every night so that he can sleep in the light of the stars.

One night, when Tim cannot open the window, he climbs up through the attic onto the roof of the orphanage. There, he becomes alarmed when he see his favorite star, Adhara, vanish.

At about the same time, he meets the Cat Shepherd—a giant, round, comical creature whose job is to look after all the cats who bring sleep to children every night. Since Tim is awake, we quickly realize that the Cat Shepherd isn’t particularly good at his job, and he’s not very clever. He bargains with Tim that if he takes him to meet Moka, the ruler of the land of Nocturna, the boy will go to sleep. Eager to learn what’s happened to Adhara, Tim agrees.


Tim does meet Moka, but he doesn’t find him sympathetic to his cause. Moka’s job is to orchestrate all the activities of the night, carried out by the denizens of Nocturna. He fancies himself a grand problem solver, but when Tim brings the problem of Adhara’s disappearance to his attention, he grows angry. “Kids don’t solve problems. Kids only eat chocolate, destroy things, and snivel,” he growls at Tim. Still, he sets Tim on a quest—albeit it through deception and trickery—to find the Starkeeper and ask him about Adhara. Along the way, Tim and the Cat Shepherd have many adventures and misadventures as they unravel the mysteries of Nocturna, learn to overcome their fears, and set the world—in both its daytime and nighttime incarnations—right.

The Creatures of Nocturna

The world of Nocturna is a fantastical wonderland. Writers (and directors) Adrià García and Víctor Maldonado invent many wonderful characters who explain all the things that go bump in the night. Among them:

  • The Ébouriffeuse (literally “ruffling machines” in English), three marionette-styled women who are responsible for making sure every child wakes with knots, clumps, and impressive bedhead.
  • The Lumignons (“candle lights”)  who stand guard over the city from their perches in streetlights and lamps.
  • The Whisperer, who conducts an orchestra of Nocturnians in making the music of the night by slamming window shutters, scratching branches on window panes, whistling wind down chimney stacks.

The Beautiful Sights and Sounds of Nocturna

Besides being a wonderful story, Nocturna is a gorgeous piece of art. Every single cell of animation is beautifully rendered, and the score, written by Nicolas Errèra, is so wonderful that I paused the movie to find it on Spotify.


After a string of family movie nights with movies like Air Bud 3: World Pup and Beverly Hills Chihuahua 3: Viva la Fiesta! (both of which were so bad I can neither recommend nor link to them), Nocturna was a delightful surprise. The story is complex and real—what kid doesn’t have a fear of the dark at some point in his life?—but it is ultimately hopeful, fun, and affirming. It’s the sort of film that makes it easy to talk with your kids about important things like friendship, selflessness, courage, and faith.

Nocturna is streaming on Amazon Prime, and it’s sure to bring some magic to your next family movie night.

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