This is the 16th installment of my ongoing survey of French animated features – this week, a look at the features released only last year, with films by Jacques-Rémy Girerd, Stéphane Berla and Mathias Malzieu.
Miniscule: La Vallée des Fourmis Perdues (Miniscule: The Valley of Lost Ants), directed by Hélène Giraud and Thomas Szabo. 89 minutes. January 29, 2014.
A theatrical feature based on Giraud & Szabo’s popular TV series Miniscule; almost 100 six-minute wordless episodes since October 2006 starring CGI bugs against live backgrounds.
In this pantomime (except for Mandible’s command-whistle) CGI feature, a married couple is having a picnic in the countryside. The pregnant wife goes into labor, and the couple rush to a hospital, abandoning their picnic. A newborn ladybug flies into a box of sugar cubes. A column of black ants, led by Mandible, discovers the picnic remains, then drops everything to concentrate on the box of sugar. An army of red ants tries to steal the sugar, and the black ants hastily take the box back to their anthill despite many perils, helped by the ladybug who becomes their friend. When a vast horde of red ants, led by the warrior Butor, attacks the black ants, war breaks out with improvised catapults, rockets, and a French banknote made into a paper plane. Mandible and the black ants are losing until the ladybug goes for help.
Variety has described Miniscule as “the hit toon that grossed over 8.3 million Euros in France.” It won the César Award for the Best Animated Film of 2014.
Jack et la Méchanique du Coeur (Jack and the Mechanics of the Heart), directed by Stéphane Berla and Mathias Malzieu. 89 minutes. February 5, 2014.
CGI animation, released in America as Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart, and in Britain as The Boy with the Cuckoo-Clock Heart. Jack is born in Edinburgh in 1874, on a day so cold that his heart is frozen. Dr. Madeleine, the scientist-midwife at his birth, hurriedly makes him an artificial heart from a cuckoo clock. But it is very delicate. Jack is raised by Dr. Madeleine and always told that he must never get excited or angry, or touch his clock, because that could stop his heart – or fall in love. Of course, he does, with Miss Acaia, a mysterious street singer. When Jack grows old enough to become independent, he sets out to find Miss Acaia at the peril of his life; a search that takes him from the lochs of Scotland to a gypsy circus in Andalusia.
Jack et la Méchanique du Coeur was developed around a concept album by the French rock band Dionysos, and the illustrated novel Le Méchanique du Coeur by Mathias Malzieu, the band’s lead singer who was also the film’s co-director and Jack’s voice actor. Dionysos wrote the music for the film. Luc Besson was its co-producer. It was scheduled to be released on October 17, 2012, but was delayed by the bankruptcy of its animation studio, Duran Duboi. It premiered at the Arras Film Festival on November 17, 2013, but was not generally released until February 5, 2014 in Belgium and France, and on February 8 at the 2014 Berlin International Film Festival. It had a limited American theatrical release on September 24 to qualify for the 2014 Oscar, and was released to DVD and Blu-Ray on October 7. It was nominated for the César Award for the Best Animated Film of 2014.
Tante Hilda! (Aunt Hilda!), directed by Jacques-Rémy Girerd. 89 minutes. February 12, 2014.
In Beaumont-les-Vignes, a fictional town in southeast France (where the real Folimage studio is located), two sisters grow up: Hilda and Dolores. They are diametrically opposed. Hilda is red-haired, lanky, rides a bicycle, outgoing and friendly, and loves nature. Everyone calls her Aunt Hilda. Dolores is fat, crabby, greedy, and becomes the CEO of DOLO, a giant multinational company that cares only for profits. Hilda builds a large fairytale greenhouse where she conserves thousands of rare plants from around the world, in danger of becoming extinct. Olivia orders her scientists to develop a new, better, miracle plant that will make them richer.
Scientists Mikael and Julio appear to succeed. Their new plant is Attilem, which looks like a giant artichoke. It’s a cereal that requires almost no water or fertilizer, and produces a fuel that can replace oil. But it has a fatal flaw, which sends Mikael fleeing while Julio loyally takes the Attilem to Olivia, who orders him to shut up while she markets it around the world. Only Aunt Hilda suspects that it may be too good to be true. But Dolores makes her warnings look like the ravings of an eco-terrorist, and she is imprisoned along with Mikael. By the time they are released, the Attilem is spreading uncontrolled and wiping out all natural plants; and Dolores is even trying to make a fortune from selling a new (and ecologically dangerous) miracle weed-killer. Aunt Hilda has had too much!
With Tante Hilda!, Folimage returned to traditional hand-drawn cel animation, as opposed to its previous feature, Une Vie de Chat. Folimage founder Jacques-Rémy Girerd announced that this would be his final film as director. It premiered at the Cannes Festival, had its North American premiere at the New York International Children’s Film Festival, and is scheduled for the 65th Berlin International Film Festival, February 5-15, 2015. However, its heavy-handed ecological preaching generated considerable controversy, with critics charging that Girerd was trying to brainwash children to fear all genetically modified organisms and into eco-activism, and Girerd claiming that it only advised caution.
Astérix: Le Domaine des Dieux (Astérix: The Land of the Gods), directed by Alexandre Astier and Louis Clichy. 85 minutes. November 26, 2014.
There are eleven production companies in the credits; the principal five are M6 Studio and M6 Films, Belvision, Grid Animation, and Société Nouvelle de Cinématographie (SNC). An adaptation of Astérix album #17 (1971). Julius Caesar, who is fed up with the Roman army being beaten up, orders the forest around Astérix’s village cleared, and a palatial Roman residential estate (designed by architect Anglaigus) built around it; the Land of the Gods. Caesar’s real-estate pitchman, Sénateur Prospectus, persuades upper-class Romans to move there. If Caesar can’t outfight the Gauls, he’ll brainwash them by surrounding them with Roman culture. But the Romans go shopping in the next-door Gallic village, and clever Astérix makes sure that the assimilation goes the other way. Literally Asterix: The Home of the Gods, but officially translated as The Land of the Gods.
Next week: 2015.