Dirs/scr: Thomas Szabo, Hélène Giraud. France. 2013. 89mins

Minuscule: The Valley Of The Lost Ants

For those who thought The Artist - a silent black-and-white French feature with music – was audacious, along comes Minuscule: The Valley Of The Lost Ants (Minusclue: La Valee Des Fourmis Perdues) a dialogue-free bug saga carried along by brilliant sound effects, an epic score and delightful animation in the service of an incredibly basic yet endlessly inventive story.

The film handles scale with an eye toward plausibility, a tactic that imbues the build-up to the truly epic battle between black ants and red with earned grandeur.

The melding of animated critters with real nature backdrops is seamless and, in a way, rather thrilling as a lone ladybug helps a group of black ants fend off an army of evil red ants that covet the tin box full of sugar cubes left behind by humans after a picnic.

There should be no impediment to distribution far and wide for this ultra-family-friendly and amusing-for-adults gem in stereoscopic 3D, which is off to a roaring start since its January 29 release in France.

The characters began a decade ago in an award-winning short that became a TV series, which was widely sold in other territories. While the insects are familiar to French audiences, no prior knowledge is needed to immediately enjoy their antics. Kids as young as three can appreciate the proceedings while older viewers will marvel at the wall-to-wall ingenuity conveyed via splendid visuals.

After swooping widescreen shots of resplendent natural settings, we meet a couple of ladybugs (or ‘ladybirds’ for British viewers) at the birth of their triplets. Mom ‘n’ Dad give their offspring a quick tutorial in how to fly and the family takes off to explore.

The ladybug that will be our hero is ridiculed by some bullying flies in a nicely modulated slapstick sequence that sets the tone for the adventures to come.  By the time our ladybug has wreaked clever revenge on its tormentors, it has been separated from its family.

In the time-honoured tradition of lone heroes, the ladybug will be called upon to help a batch of industrious black ants who, via teamwork and gumption, hope to carry, drag and float a rectangular tin filled with sugar cubes back to their community’s ant hill.  

The animators get great mileage out of the fact that an ant can carry many times its own weight as hardworking insects travel past balancing an outsized potato chip or a pickle or a strawberry atop their tiny frames.

The way each insect’s scurrying or attenuated flight is animated has just the right pace to be inherently amusing no matter how many times you see it. Ditto for their pared down expressions, conveyed through basic round orbs with a dot drawn in the middle.

The film handles scale with an eye toward plausibility, a tactic that imbues the build-up to the truly epic battle between black ants and red with earned grandeur. This is the insect kingdom’s answer to the World Cup, the Superbowl and the final showdown from The Lord Of The Rings brought down to ground level. Their weapons are fashioned from some of the slow-to decay manufactured debris that pollutes the natural settings.

Except for a few props like an old 500 franc note, a can of bug spray and a Citroen, there’s no give-away that this is a French endeavor. The gibberish languages the insects “speak” suggest they might be able to carry on a conversation with the Minions from Despicable Me (whose silly voices also originated from French vocal cords.) A dream sequence or two takes the tale to a bittersweet level lesser talents would not have explored.

Production companies: Futurikon, 2d3D Animations, Entre Chien et Loup, Nozon Paris

International sales: Futurikon, www.futurikon.com

Producer: Philippe Delarue

Production designer: Hélène Giraud

Music: Hervé Lavandier

Website: www.minuscule.com