Set in an unidentified, idyllic corner of South America, Gallic toon “Mia and the Migoo” boasts a handsome, folkloric look that is often undermined by a ham-handed script, the relentlessness of the agenda about natural balance resulting in a fatally unbalanced narrative. Originally produced and released in France in 2008, Jacques-Remy Girerd’s appealingly hand-drawn film may attract parents seeking to expose kids to the wonders of ecosystems and the evils of despoilers. A freshly minted, English-language “Mia” debuts March 25 for a weeklong run at Gotham’s IFC Center, and will re-emerge on Earth Day.
Mia (voiced by Amanda Misquez in the English-language version reviewed) awakens in a panic at the very moment her workman father, Pedro (Jesse Corti), is buried alive in a cave-in at the construction site of a palatial complex catering to the very rich. She determinedly climbs mountains, traverses jungles and navigates contaminated rivers to find her beloved papa, armed only with her dead mother’s good-luck totems and helped along by size-shifting magical beings called the Migoo.
Meanwhile, mogul Jekhide (John DiMaggio) is trying to finalize the deal on the proposed complex before potential investors find out about the many problems on site. Since his ex-wife, an ecological scientist, is busy studying ice floes in Antarctica, Jekhide is reluctantly forced to look after his bright, remarkably sane young son, Aldrin (Vincent Agnello), who is horrified by his father’s disregard for anything but money.
In this era of CGI, it’s hard not to appreciate the movie’s frame-by-frame approach, from the flush on the characters’ cheeks to the simple line work defining Mia’s locks of hair, shifting unpredictably whenever she turns her head. The contributions of storyboard artist Benoit Chieux and head of design Gael Brisou are shown to best advantage in the opening scenes with Mia as she crosses roads and scurries through the town square, the film’s tropical color palette registering most effectively in high-angle perspectives on the villagers below. Such simplicity is very quickly sacrificed, however, to endless elaborations on the inner workings of multinational capitalism, which prove redundant and didactic.
The film’s strongly coded imagery and supernatural concepts anticipated those in numerous higher-profile live-action pics: A year before the release of “Avatar,” helmer Girerd had similarly imagined an all-important Tree of Life threatened by man’s greed and stupidity. The innocent befuddlement and jumbled group dynamics of the mythical Migoo (especially as voiced by Wallace Shawn) sometimes echo the shenanigans of the beasties in “Where the Wild Things Are.”
But the fact that environmental pollution is linked to beings that grow gigantic, leave enormous footprints, knock down cranes and topple bulldozers should not surprise anyone, as this particular fantasy conceit dates back decades to before even “Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster.”
An excellent, syllable-perfect redubbing has allowed the film to be rendered into English by a superlative cast.