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Minuscule: La Vallée des fourmis perdues
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by Jay Seaver

"Tiny heroes, great big adventure."
5 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2015 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: One of the most enjoyable parts of this festival (and movie-going in general) over the past few years has been finding kid-friendly movies that brothers and sisters-in-law would deem okay for their girls despite never having heard of the things. "Minuscule" was, hopefully, a big success on that account - I just gave one niece a copy for her fifth birthday, and I can't see how the whole group of cousins don't love it.

It's apparently a spin-off of a set of shorts by Hélène Giraud (who dedicates the film to her late father Jean aka Moebius) & Thomas Szabo, although it is very easy to go in cold - the hero is actually a newborn at the start of the film, a just-hatched ladybug that gets left behind, unable to fly as fast as his/her siblings(*). Speaking of birth, a pair of humans leave an entire picnic behind as the pregnant wife goes into labor, and among the insects that quickly come to scavenge it are a troop of black ants who find a whole basket full of sugar that they mean to take back to their formicary. The ladybug tags along, but it's a long way over uneven terrain and a stream, with a group of red ants determined to to take the prize for themselves.

(*) It's worth noting that none of the characters in this movie are specifically gendered beyond the egg-laying ant queens, so if you tell kids that their favorite character is a boy or girl, they'd have to do some research on insect behavior to tell you otherwise.

That this film is originally French should be no problem for a young audience; the version screened had one screen's worth of text at the start, and after that the insect characters all communicate in whistles, kazoo noises, and other sounds, with some pantomime thrown in. Indeed, for a movie presented without words, the sound work is incredibly important - the drag-racing sounds dubbed over certain insects flying, for instance, locks their personality in right away - so calling it a "silent" film, as some have done, would be a mistake. The American DVD apparently adds narration from Richard Dreyfus, which is likely pleasant but superfluous; hopefully the original soundtrack is an option there.

I've only seen the unnarrated version,but I can confirm that it is delightful, from the way it eases the audience into the movie by embracing the ladybug's initial timidity to the delightfully absurd final battle between the black ants and red ants who also want the sugar, which involves fireworks and slingshots and all manner of things that I hope ants can't really do. It's sweet and funny, with slapstick that plays to how kids often don't entirely know what's going on but generally find out that's okay, although bullies will get their comeuppance. It includes some brilliantly executed chases on land, sea, and air.

The animation - digital, although with the solid feel of stop-motion - is fantastic, as it sort of must be for a film that is so thoroughly based upon visuals. It's smooth and the character designs are great; they by and large look like real insects in long shots but take on some more cartoonish qualities in close-up, though eyes and mouths are seldom made expressive in human ways. The filmmakers also make great use of the space on screen whether in active or more tranquil scenes, with the use of 3D is exceptionally good, especially as these characters are placed in the middle of some very pretty live-action photography.

I knew coming out of the film that I would be buying at least two copies - one as a present and one for myself - although I was a little chagrined that I could do it right away as opposed to after some sort of North American theatrical run. It's still a treasure on a smaller, flatter screen, highly recommended both for kids and adults who like animation that embraces what the medium can do.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=29378&reviewer=371
originally posted: 09/01/15 09:50:19
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Hélène Giraud
  Thierry Szabo

Written by
  Hélène Giraud
  Thierry Szabo

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