The film’s plot is standard, never once attempting to rise above the watered-down family fare audiences have grown accustomed to since the days Walt Disney’s features first took off decades ago. The story involves children with missing parents, giant cuddly creatures that talk, and greedy moguls keen on destroying the environment to make way for flashy new resorts. You’ve seen it before, and you’ve seen it done better.
The thing that saves “Mia” from being a total bust is the fabulous art direction. The film’s director, Jacques-Remy Girerd, is a product of a Beaux-Arts school in Lyon. His film is chock-full of whimsical imagery with clear influence coming from the works of artists ranging from Degas to Cezanne. It’s this kind of calculated inclusion of a highbrow familiarity with art history that gives “Mia” a delightfully sophisticated quality.
While it’s pleasing to indulge in the classic visual references at work here, “Mia and the Migoo” also boasts an offbeat style that’s definitely an acquired taste. The film can be amusing when it’s treading middle ground, although it’s not nearly as bizarre as “The Triplets of Belleville,” it’s not exactly a stroll down Pixar lane either. But, each of the film’s 500,000 hand-painted frames does create a visually complex, fantastical spectacle unfortunately bogged down by far too many familiarities. It’s a shame, because the artistic craftsmanship in “Mia and the Magoo” is four-star quality within itself. But, if we’ve learned anything from the likes of Miyazaki and Disney, it’s that a pretty picture is worth far more than a thousand words — that is, once a first-rate film is crafted around it.