In a peaceful little clearing, the remains of a picnic hastily abandoned spark warfare between two tribes of ants. A bold young ladybug finds himself caught in the middle of the battle. He befriends one of the black ants, Mandible, and helps him save the anthill from the assault of the terrible red ant warriors, led by the fearful Butor. A fantastic journey at ground level…
On the tube, “Minuscule” unspooled in tight, 6-minute episodes, as CG (computer generated) insects went about their modest adventures amidst the French countryside. Now at feature length, the approach of directors Thomas Szabo and Helene Giraud always managed with modest, yet effective animation, nicely complimented by lush cinematography (lensed in Provence) and a sweet score that’s anything but antic.
Far removed from civilization, the excursion opens with a bird’s eye wink at mankind: a young couple, out for a romantic afternoon drive in their bright red VW bug. However, this is not their story; rather, it follows the fate of their picnic supplies, left behind for tiny scavengers. In this spirit, a title card trumpets the heroism of a lone ladybug — the William Wallace of the insect world, Braveheart of the bugs — whom we see abandoned by his family and adopted by a colony of black ants under full-scale attack by a rival red-ant faction.
This mostly-insect cast, who never speak but gleefully toot sound effects from both ends, function as the most rudimentary of animated characters, their simple CG bodies adorned with googly eyes — the sort preschoolers paste to arts-and-crafts projects, in which poppy seed-sized specks wiggle in tiny plastic hemispheres. Even without the relatively dazzling, gem-like orbs seen on most American cartoon characters, these critters are capable of a wide range of amusing expressions, their simple design and silly behavior accounting for most of their appeal.
From time to time, the ladybug bumps into larger creatures intent on eating him — a frog, a fish and a lizard as terrifying in its scale as the T-rex must have seemed to the humans in “Jurassic Park.” Animation-wise, these animals aren’t nearly as endearing, neither cartoony nor especially realistic. The same goes for a range of virtual props that factor into the battle between the black and red ants. The attackers fire slingshots and carry a can of bug spray (a toxic weapon for both sides), while the defending black-ant colony hordes a stockpile of fireworks, but only one match.
With echoes of 2006’s “The Ant Bully,” this drawn-out siege scenario plays like a slow-burning house fire and it makes little sense until the wounded ladybug William Wallace rises to the challenge and shows how he can be the one to save the day for the Black Ants Tribe.
Directed by Thomas Szabo and Helene Giraud, MINUSCULE : Valley of the Lost Ants is distributed by Solar Pictures, Inc. A pre-Christmas treat for the entire family showing at your favorite theaters on December 3, 2014.