Coming to America three years after its French release, Mia and the Migoo's hand-drawn look—amusing caricatured characters, impressionistic natural backdrops and the occasional sharp action sequence—helps make its heavy-handed agenda go down easier. Industrialist Jekhide (John DiMaggio) prepares to convert unspoiled land into an expensive real estate complex, oblivious to both his sensitive son Aldrin (Vincent Agnello) and the environmental havoc he's about to wreak. Meanwhile, plucky Mia (Amanda Misquez) comes to the site searching for her dad, Pedro (Jesse Corti). With both worker and master represented, the stage is set for magical forest creatures to emerge and teach a worthwhile but clumsy lesson about the importance of forest conservation and the perils of global warming. The look is appealing, but the dark third act and heavy themes may alienate family audiences.
It's hard to argue with any of the lessons being promoted. Mia's spunky rather than brattily precocious: adults keep warning her not to attempt her journey and predict she'll be frightened, but Mia appealingly never loses her cool. Aldrin and father Jekhide get more screen time together. Gargantuan Jekhide is an inspired creation, whose absurdly huge body and restrained body language suggest a fundamental decency beneath his rapacious capitalism. The movie's too kind-hearted (or just liberal humanist) for villains, so Jekhide's better self emerges. Son Aldrin's the weak link—he doesn't have much to do but act disapproving of his dad—but character developments come to a halt in the last third.
That's when the apocalypse comes: Mia befriends the Migoos, magical giants who live in the forest protected by a sacred tree Jekhide's planning to mow down. The film's most enjoyable creations, the size-shifting giants, argue over who's the best protector of the tree while amusingly oblivious to how threatening their size can be. But when the tree's hurt, the plagues are unleashed at once: fires burst, the water turns red, rocks tumble. At this point, the doom and gloom is coming on a bit too strong: though appropriately stylized, the film loses its mostly charming balance and turns too gloomy for its own good, never recovering.
The generally precarious balance between message and entertainment is tipped by the dub; the broad American voices work counter-intuitively with many of the stereotypically French faces. (At one point, a gun-seller, drawn as a stereotypical kung fu Chinaman type, is incongruously dubbed into a voice reminiscent of Mike Myers as effeminate German talk show host Sprockets.) It's a tribute to the film's overall good nature that it comes off more as low-key and amusing, rather than unpleasantly shrill.
Cast: John DiMaggio, Whoopi Goldberg, Matthew Modine, Wallace Shawn, James Woods and Vincent Agnello
Director: Jacques Rémy-Girard
Screenwriters: Jacques Rémy-Girard, Antoine Lanciaux, Iouri Tcherenkov and Benoît Chieux
Producers: Jacques Rémy-Girard, Eric Beckman and Jesteadt
Rating: PG for thematic elements, some peril and brief mild language.
Running time: 92 min.
Release date: April 22 ltd.