We continue our series of reviews chronicling all of the (non-Studio Ghibli) animated films distributed by GKIDS Films–some of the most original and breathtakingly beautiful animated films from around the world–and how they hold up for a young American audience.
We’re traveling chronologically (the entire retrospective is found here), and this time we’ve got…
Mia and the Migoo (2008): Jacques-Rémy Girerd, director
What’s it about?
There have been several instances of strange and unexplained vandalism at a remote construction site bordering a picturesque lake. The workers there are anxious and on edge when two more bizarre events bring everything crashing down (literally): a crane falls onto the workers’ barracks and the mountain access tunnel caves in one one of the workers.
Mia, a young girl with a strong connection to her father (the worker trapped in the tunnel collapse), wakes up from a nightmare/premonition that something terrible has happened. She immediately decides to set out on her own to find and save her father. Never mind that she doesn’t know the way…or really where she’s going. She’s determined.
This is a world in which water has become a contested commodity. From what we can see, much of the world is brown, dusty, and has succumbed to drought-like conditions. Everyplace, that is, except a pristine lake and tropical forest nestled in a hidden and inaccessible corner of a mountainous region.
It’s a bit like The Lost World. Except real-estate developer Mr. Jekhide has found it and is planning to raze much of the forest to build a brand-new luxury resort. He just needs to interest the right investors and secure the funding necessary to finish construction. And that majestic, ancient tree in the middle of the lake? Yeah, that totally has to go.
As luck would have it, (i.e., sheer will and determination), Mia has found her way to the mountains and quickly learns about the Migoo: bumbling forest spirits who watch over and protect the Tree of Life (that tree in the center of the lake). The Migoo have the ability to replicate and transform themselves, but they’re not very bright.
Together with Aldrin (Jekhide’s son, who is about the same age as Mia) and the Migoo, Mia must save her father, the Tree of Life, and the planet. Not too shabby.
What are the cultures at play? And how about the languages?
It’s a French film, but the story and messages are universal. It doesn’t take place in France, let alone any version of our reality. The world Mia and the other characters inhabit is a “could be” version of Earth’s future in which water is scarce and much of the planet is sliding toward drought-like conditions. Plus, you know, bumbling forest spirits with magical powers.
Even though the film was originally released in French, the DVD for some reason only has the English dub. The cast is full of well-known actors, including Whoopi Goldberg, Matthew Modine, Wallace Shawn, and James Woods. Obviously, they do a great job, and none of their voices is so well known (with the exception of Shawn) that it takes you out of the movie.
Will my kids like it?
Very probably. Mia is a strong, independent, likable character with whom many kids can relate. Even though they are kids, she and Aldrin act like logical human beings. They’re not stupid for ease of storytelling or as a convenient device to show their age or inexperience. They’re kids, yes, but they’re smart, know what they’re doing, and are ultimately more rational (and ethical) than the adults.
The Migoo are also charming characters. Kids will undoubtedly find them and their actions funny. Plus, they’re voiced (in the English dub) by Wallace Shawn, who many kids will probably recognize as the voice of Rex from the Toy Story movies.
Also, the story isn’t exactly oblique about its environmental message. You’re practically hit over the head with it, so even the youngest viewers will be able to latch onto and think about its forthright eco message.
Will I like it?
Probably. The film is entirely hand-drawn and employs a unique animation style that makes each frame dance with energy. The backgrounds resemble Cézanne landscapes, and all of the characters come alive with active watercolor brushstrokes.
The film took six years to make, and the attention to detail shines through in every scene. The opening, establishing shot of the Tree of Life and a later scene depicting a meteor shower over the lake are haunting and downright mesmerizing.
As I mentioned above, the moral and message of the film is very heavy-handed and couldn’t possibly hit you over the head any harder. There’s actually quite a bit of overlap with Avatar, speaking of heavy-handed eco films, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all to hear that James Cameron directly “borrowed” from Mia as he wrote his film.
However, the environmental message of the film felt almost tangential to me. I was more drawn to the father-daughter relationship and the burgeoning friendship between Mia and Aldrin.
The depiction of the villain is also refreshing in that he’s not a one-note, mustache-twirling villain. He’s conflicted and desperate, which provide motivation for his actions, but — deep down — he’s also a loving father and good man. His character arc is probably the most interesting one in the film.
Is there anything objectionable for young kids?
Nope. There are a few scenes toward the end with a powerful rocket explosion and some destruction, and there are some plot points where the audience is led to believe a character gets hurt/killed. These might affect particularly sensitive younger kids, but no one actually gets harmed.
How can I see it?
The film is available on DVD and can be ordered from the usual places, including Amazon. It’s also available on Amazon Instant Video and is currently streaming on Hulu. The DVD has a couple special features, including a 25-minute making-of featurette and a 25-minute extended interview with the director. Both are fascinating insights into the creative process behind and development of the film.
This is a beautiful film and well worth hunting down. I wish it were available on Blu-ray, but the audio and video quality on the DVD are surprisingly good. I also wish the original French dialogue track were more readily available. But these are relatively minor grievances for such an incredible film.
Mia and the Migoo may not be among the most well known of GKIDS’s films, but it certainly deserves to be. It’s enjoyable on all levels, and you’ll be left wanting more. Job well done.