It’s no small feat (pun intended) to make a feature-length movie without a single line of dialogue, and even silent films often used intertitles to help explain key parts of the story.
Yet the team behind the French animated sequel, Minuscule: Mandibles From Far Away (Minuscule 2 — Les Mandibules du Bout du Monde) has once again crafted a gorgeous, completely dialogue-less movie that’s suspenseful, easy to follow and a real pleasure to watch. Marketed for kids but equally rewarding for adults, it should be another mid-sized hit for studio Futurikon Films, though it may not quite reach the box-office heights of the original 2013 film.
Made for a purported budget of 13 million euros ($15 million), Minuscule combines live-action photography with 3D animation in a number of stunning ways, taking us from the snow-capped valleys of eastern France to the heart of the Caribbean. Our tour guides are once again a gang of googly eyed insects, including a family of ladybugs, a small army of ants and an adorable little spider with a taste for classical music.
This time around, one of the ladybugs gets caught in a box of canned chestnut cream being shipped from a tiny French village to a beachside restaurant in Guadeloupe. The bug’s dad chases after him, and the two are soon waylaid in a tropical jungle filled with all kinds of dangerously exotic creatures: praying mantises with hypnotic powers, caterpillars filled with toxic gas and a fluffy tarantula hungry for its next meal.
The joy of the Minuscule movies — which are the brainchildren of writers-directors-animators Thomas Szabo and Helene Giraud, who first brought the concept to French TV — is in watching how the filmmakers constantly play with scale (a cigarette butt suddenly becomes an insurmountable obstacle, an iPad and mini speakers are transformed into a giant sound system), realism (the bugs are all cartoonish but are depicted in actual environments, with 3D characters encrusted into photographed backdrops) and wordless storytelling that relies solely on visual and sonic cues.
The latter is perhaps the most impressive aspect of the Minuscule franchise, eschewing the snarky one-liners and nonstop banter of nearly every animated feature involving animals made over the past decades. (Another recent example is Michael Dudok de Wit’s lovely minimalist tale, The Red Turtle, which was also produced in France.) Without dialogue, Minuscule still creates plenty of tension and emotion, especially in a late sequence where the young ladybug falls into a coma, prompting the other insects to concoct a remedy out of the local flora and fauna.
What also makes Minuscule such a rich experience is the use of diverse sound effects to enhance and often distort the action, with flying gnats morphing into scrambling fighter jets or a giant spider web emitting the noise of metal cables stretched to the breaking point. Those creative, amusing touches — reminiscent of the surreal sound work in Jacques Tati’s movies — are backed by a busy score from Mathieu Lamboley that goes overboard in places but also does a good job accompanying the many wonders of nature on display.