DIR: Stephan Schesch, Sarah Clara Weber • WRI: Stephan Schesch, Ralph Martin • PRO: Stephan Schesch • CAST: Katharina Thalbach, Ulrich Tukur
What are ‘children of all ages’? Are they monsters? Do they suffer from growth hormone imbalances? Do they really have as great a capacity for enjoyment as people say they do, these divorced, or even Alzheimer’s-ridden, children? Perhaps they’re a necessary fiction, a free market fantasy – now that we’re in the age of the supra-blockbuster and films that were once ‘kid’s’ are expected to appeal to absolutely everyone forever. How do they pull it off? The Disney approach was to crib Joseph Campbell’s monomyth, and then came Shrek etc., patronising children and masking jokes for 18-24 year-olds with bright colours. Recently, Wreck-It Ralph did a better job, and shared pretty things from an older generation’s past while keeping everyone involved. Moon Man director Stephan Schesch has decided to get rid of of irony completely, and, like Sylvain Chomet, he just about gets away with it.
The Moon Man (Katharina Thalbach) lives on, or rather, in, the moon – it’s a little like a too-small fishbowl. He’s bored up there, all alone, and one day he grabs the tail of a passing comet and takes a trip to Earth. But Earth’s bully of a President (Michael McElhatton) is afraid that he’s the vanguard of a coming invasion, and sends his army after him. Worst of all, with nothing but an empty moon to look at, children all over the world can’t sleep. It’s up to hermitic inventor-of-everything Bunsen Van der Dunkel (Pat Laffan) to help the Moon Man get back home, and to make sure that the President’s forces don’t capture him in the meantime. The film is very faithful to the Tomi Ungerer book upon which it’s based, and Ungerer himself provides narration.
The pacing, and the frame rate, may be too sluggish to hold the attention of those of us used to Pixar. And since the film was originally in German, the lip-sync discrepancy is off-putting; at times it’s uncomfortably like watching old episodes of Inspector Gadget. The nods to grown-ups are often forced and sometimes inappropriate, such as the strange implied sex scene.
But Moon Man does succeed when it stops trying to engage with the last few decades of animated cinema. Every individual image is very beautiful, since they’re so close to Ungerer’s original drawings. It’s like looking at a painting in just the way that Pixar films aren’t. CGI tends to mimic the textures of life (remember how amazing that water in Finding Nemo looked), and old-fashioned animated films often replicate textures we have experienced in other artworks – paintings, the illustrations in picture books, even, let’s say, the very young child’s experience of an ancient aunt’s garishly made-up face. The slow pace actually helps you appreciate the vivid colours and the use of line, if you let yourself get into it. The music, too, is charming, and some moony old standards (the Blue one and the River one) are cleverly employed. See Moon Man with children (of all ages) who need to learn to appreciate life’s subtler pleasures.
Darragh John McCabe
G (See IFCO for details)
Moon Man is released on 27th December 2013