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Entries in Minuscule (1)

Thursday
May082014

MINUSCULE: VALLEY OF THE ANTS

Writers/Directors: Helene Giraud and Thomas Szabo.

Rating: 3.5/5

The bigscreen adaptation of co-directors Helene Giraud and Thomas Szabo’s French TV hit is a charming adventure that only stumbles when it favours an increasingly expansive plot over its delightful six-legged stars. Which won’t matter one bit to the under 10s, for whom this unlikely, sweetly-told tale of friendship in the insect world will prove irresistible.

Giraud and Szabo stumbled upon a cottage industry when they launched the first series of six-minute shorts in 2006 chronicling anthropomorphised insect life in the French countryside (the film’s backdrop is the woods of Provence). To date, the pair has produced 78 mini-episodes; all are sans dialogue (as is the film version), ensuring easy transition into a global marketplace that now numbers over 70 territories. The step-up to cinema-sized coin was inevitable and has proven audience-friendly; Minuscule is already one of 2014’s top-earners, with Eu14million banked domestically.

The theme of family is established early, when a pregnant woman enjoying a picnic with her beau abandons her blanket of food to dash to the hospital. Jump cut to a birth, but not the one expected; instead, we are under a vast leafy frond and witnessing three ladybug eggs pop open. The new winged family set out on an exploratory adventure, only to have one little one become separated. All alone, his misadventures in survival lead him to the blanket, where he inadvertently befriends the leader of a black ant food-scouting regiment.

With the ants balancing a tin of sugar cubes and the wee ladybug along for the ride (a damaged wing renders the poor critter flightless), a cross-paddock odyssey is undertaken to return the bounty to the ant’s home. Dangers abound (including one very scary lizard, when viewed from the ant’s perspective), not least of which is a determinedly evil red ant platoon led by the film’s villain. The red ants are continuously denied some sugar (both good guys and bad almost falling victim to an ant life’s many dangers, including fish and motorcars) until they can take it no more; the reds launch an all out assault on the black ant hill.

It is this third-act/ninety-degree turn into a Lord of the Rings-style ‘castle siege’ that betrays the elegant, character-driven warmth of Minuscule; the wonderfully expressive eyes of the key protagonists and the major threats posed by minor obstacles are all the narrative needed. By the time the warring ant armies drag slingshots, fireworks and a bug-spray can into battle, audience empathy and interest has waned. One senses Giraud and Szabo were unsure of how to upscale the story as convincingly as the visuals; the narrative hiccups when our ladybug hero/heroine must travel back to the rug, becoming side-tracked into an unnecessary encounter with a spider and frog.

In every other respect, Minuscule is an enormously entertaining adventure. It effortlessly finds more engaging interplay and laughs amongst its handful of tiny, wordless characters than the entire cast of most recent smart-mouthed US animation efforts.