Mia and the Migoo (Mia et le Migou)

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 06/21/11 13:41:43

"Pretty and charming enough to overlook story problems."
3 stars (Average)

"Mia and the Migoo" isn't a new film; it played the festival circuit and various markets two and a half years ago, including the New York International Children's Film Festival. Apparently Matthew Modine saw it at one of those festivals, because when it popped up at that same festival two years later, his name was on it as a producer and he was doing a couple of the voices. That's the version that's popping up in some American theaters now, and that makes sense: It's mainly for young children, and even those old enough to read subtitles easily might not want to be distracted from the beautiful animation.

A construction site somewhere in South America suffers a series of strange accidents - or what would be accidents, if not for the giant footprints found nearby. The latest has trapped Pedro (voice of Jesse Corti) under a landslide. On the other side of the country, his daughter Mia (voice of Amanda Misquez) wakes up with a start, gathers her late mother's good-luck charms, and sets out on foot to find him, even though everybody warns her that the mountains and forests are populated by monsters. On the other side of the world, news of this disaster can't come at a worse time. The developer behind the project, Jekhilde (voice of John Di Maggio), is trying to raise money from new investors, and is stuck bringing his son Aldrin (voice of Vincent Agnello) along, what with the boy's mother at an Antarctic research station and his grandmother off with her new boyfriend.

Computers have become the predominate tool among those creating animated features today, but Jacques-Rémy Girerd appears to be an exception to the rule, at least where Mia and the Migoo is concerned. Though there are digital artists mentioned in the credits, the bulk of movie is created by hand, and the results are remarkable to behold: Mia's world is a painting, lush in color and detail but with visible brush strokes; it's never unreal but doesn't endeavor to be photo-realistic the way many other animated films do. The characters, meanwhile, are charmingly illustrated, with red cheeks on the children and a rounded solidity to all. The effect is akin to a children's book come to life, although the motion is more natural than most attempts to actually adapt those books.

Another thing the movie resembles is the works of Hayao Miyazaki; the young protagonists, rounded creatures, environmental message, and appropriation of mythology without demonizing technology all bring to mind the Japanese master. Unfortunately, Girerd and his four co-writers do not quite have the seemingly-effortless way with details and themes that the master storytellers have; the last act, for instance, reduces something from a powerful symbol to a puzzle to be solved, and two sequences - Mia's encounter with a mountain-dwelling enchantress (voiced by Whoopi Goldberg) and Aldrin's near-miss with a meteor shower - seem like they should be a much bigger deal than they would turn out to be. Jekhilde is a simplistic villain given on-the-nose lines just in case the youngest kids in the audience don't get what a selfish guy he is.

Admittedly, those are issues with the American dub which might not be as much an issue with the original French soundtrack (I do not believe the film was recut in addition to being dubbed). The dub itself is pretty good, only occasionally having a mismatch between the amount that needs to be said and what sort of lip movement they have to match, and the voice acting is fine. Amanda Misquez and Vincent Agnello do a good job as the kids, coming across as intelligent children without being annoyingly precocious. Modine takes a couple of the broader voices (a Texan investor and a toadying assistant) and does fine with them. Interestingly, Jekhilde is voiced by John Di Maggio, the sort of voice actor usually relegated to minor roles in celebrity-stuffed voice casts, but he does as well with Jekhide as anybody could. Goldberg and James Woods turn in entertaining performances, and special mention must be made of Wallace Shawn, who voices all the Migoos that show up in the movie, giving them distinct voices personalities while making sure they all have the vocal properties you hire Wallace Shawn for.

It's a good dub on top of a good-looking movie. Admittedly, it's a movie designed with kids in mind featuring a screenplay that starts looking a bit weak for audience members with ages in the double digits, but it looks good enough and has enough charm that adults should be able to get through it without much complaint.

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