Movie review: Minuscule: Mandibles from Far Away

A wordless family film about a lost insect breaks down the language barrier

Minuscule: Mandibles from Far Away (Mrňouskové 2: Daleko od domova)
Directed by Hélène Giraud, Thomas Szabo

Parents with kids who don’t speak Czech often find the film options limited, as most kids films are dubbed. The French animated and live action film Minuscule: Mandibles from Far Away is virtually wordless, so anybody can appreciate it.

The plot involves a young ladybug who gets trapped in a box of jars of chestnut cream being sent from France to the Caribbean, and the efforts of one of its parents to rescue it. The insects communicate by noises, leaving the audience to guess at the meaning. Usually it is quite clear.

Aside from the animated ladybugs, there are ants, spiders and praying mantises, but set into photo-realistic backgrounds. Some real people turn up on occasion, but aren’t important to the overall plot.

The insects in France and in Guadeloupe find themselves in a series of misadventures, chased by predatory insects and caught up in one dangerous looking set piece of acrobatic slapstick after another. At the same time a plot develops with the lost ladybug finding a colony of Caribbean ladybugs with different coloring. A subplot has the parent ladybug crossing the Atlantic Ocean in a toy boat, with the help of a spider and his vintage iPod. This helps to add some additional diversions and keeps the action from becoming repetitive.

Fans of classic silent adventure films will spot many of the techniques uses to create excitement without dialogue.

The plot isn’t exactly original. The parent ladybug setting out to cross the ocean to find the child is similar to the main action of Pixar’s Finding Nemo (2003). But the telling of the tale is completely different, as is the visual style.

The insects are drawn rather cute, with cartoonish eyes and features, but not made overly human looking, as is the typical American animation style.

Even without words, the film communicates several positive messages about teamwork, compassion, dedication and love.

With big-budget US-made cartoons from Pixar and Disney almost monopolizing children’s entertainment, it is easy to forget that there are different approaches to children’s entertainment.

The blending of animation with real backgrounds in Minuscule: Mandibles from Far Away not only created an interesting look, but also saved on the budget. The film cost a reported $15 million, while the recent Pixar film Incredibles 2 had a budget of $200 million, more than 13 times as much.

Minuscule: Mandibles from Far Away is a sequel to the 2014 film Minuscule: Valley of the Lost Ants, and a spin off from the French TV series of short films Minuscule that ran from 2006 to ’12.

The filmmakers claim their inspiration came from nature documentaries like Microcosmos as well as 1950s era Warner Brothers cartoons that were aimed at both child and adult audiences. The lack of dialogue was intended to open the films up to a wide international audience.

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