Sunday, April 09, 2017
This film has racked up awards, including an Oscar nomination, and fully deserves whatever praise it's received. The story is about a group of children who are victims of neglect or tragedy living in a state-run institution. While the subject matter sounds depressing, the film avoids being dreary or maudlin. This is not a story by Charles Dickens. The institution is a haven from their former lives, and while the children are marked by their experiences, they don't dwell on them. They go on being children who laugh, play, learn, fight, question and who are eager to experience new things.
The script, based on a novel by Gilles Paris with the screenplay by Celine Sciammo, Germano Zullo, Claude Barras and Morgan Navarro, and the direction by Barras are perfect, maintaining a balance between the emotions of the children's pasts and their present. The stop motion puppets are not as flexible as those made by Mackinnon and Saunders for films like The Corpse Bride, but the animators evoke a wide range of emotions with them, helped enormously by the tasteful script and direction. The film successfully develops the characters and their relationships. The events grow out of the dynamics of the group and are never less than believable.
There are no big set pieces as there typically are in North American films. It is not anywhere near as elaborate as Laika's work, but I found it to be far more satisfying. The characters simply try to live their lives and it is surprisingly interesting to watch.
I caught the film at the TIFF Kids International Film Festival. So far, the film has not received a release in Canada, though it opened in the U.S. in February. I don't know where Canadians will next have an opportunity to see this film, but don't miss it when it becomes available.