Vive la différence!

Hélène Giraud and Thomas Szabo wrote and directed this highly unusual French film.  Although the subject matter is rather familiar (with prior CGI films like Antz and A Bug’s Life), the style and content is like nothing I’ve ever seen before—and this is, by far the biggest strength of this cute little film.  However, initially I disliked what I was watching, as the beginning was loud and not especially enjoyable. But it started to grow on me as it went on.

Minuscule: Valley of the Lost Ants opens with a normal setting out in the countryside.  This is not CGI but real film.  However, throughout the two are integrated together.  When you see the world from a human’s point of you, it’s standard film.

Minuscule: Valley of the Lost Ants
Written & Directed by
Hélène Giraud & Thomas Szabo
Release Date
Martin’s Grade: A-

When it goes to the micro-world of insects, the CGI is used. It’s a very clever way to do the movie and it works very well.  However, what did not work well for me were all the sound effects for the racing bugs.  Using automobile sound effects seemed a bit heavy-handed and silly.  Fortunately, this soon gave way to a strange sort of world where, instead of voices (like you’d hear in films like A Bug’s Life), you hear a combination of odd whistles and chirps.  It’s strange but works, especially since this makes the film much more universal than a typical animated film. There’s simply no need to re-dub or caption the movie.

The plot to Minuscule is not so childish or anthropomorphic as the other insect films I previously mentioned.  In fact, the plot is amazingly simple.  A group of black ants (along with their friend, a lady bug) find a lunch box filled with sugar and take it back to their colony.  However, a group of red ants are NOT pleased—it should be their sugar and if the black ants take it, it’s war!!
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What follows is a very surreal war between the colonies—and the film improved tremendously.  This is because all pretext for realism goes out the window and the movie really won me over!  After all, MOST insect battles do not involve bugs bringing cans of insect spray, slingshots and firecrackers to the conflict!  Who’s going to win?  See the film for yourself.

The best thing about the film is simply how different it is from everything else. Too often films are derivative and familiar—something that bores me to death.  But here the filmmakers manage to create something wholly new and clever. The CGI is lovely, and different from what you’d see from Dreamworks, Disney or Pixar.  More noticeable is the music.  It’s almost magical and so unlike the typical child-oriented CGI film.  It’s instead very classically inspired and perfect for the film.  Finally, the film has a cute sense of humor.  While I don’t think it’s a comedy or is meant as one, I loved the expressions on the faces of the red ants.  Despite a few slow moments here and there and the rough start, this is really a film to see.  Will it appeal to little kids?  Maybe not.  But for older kids, teens and adults who want something different and not cloyingly sweet but still family-friendly, it’s well worth seeing. Vive la différence!

by Martin Hafer