Mark Twain suggested that Wagner’s music was ‘not as bad as it sounds’. To paraphrase the great writer, this movie is not as good as it looks. Its problem is that it projects an idea that is self-contradictory.
Teenager Mary Katherine, or MK, returns to the idyllic country home of her widowed father. Reminiscent of James Stewart at his more eccentric, he’s a nutty professor obsessed with his theory that the surrounding woods are inhabited by creatures so tiny and elusive that they might only be captured by hidden cameras. In human form, they are, of course, guardians of the natural world. Which is all well and good – if any film can inculcate in children a sense of wonder and responsibility towards the environment then it has made a valued contribution to our collective wellbeing.
But in order to create a drama with the usual contest between right and wrong, director Chris Wedge has called on a screenplay that casts the processes of decay and rotting (anathema to Hollywood’s cult of youth and beauty) as bad guys at war with the green leaf-men. It seems ridiculous to break up the cycle of life into conflicting factions, but the unthinking tenets of adversarial storytelling deem it essential – especially if you want to develop a scenario that will allow for a bunch of big battle scenes with bows and arrows and clanging swords etc.
We all know ‘it’s a jungle out there’, but in reality it is a jungle of co-existing elements. Ronin is the alpha-male leaf-man, and he zaps about on a brightly coloured hummingbird. His antagonist rides – it goes without saying – a crow (are they typecast birds or what?). MK becomes involved in their activities after she is shrunk to the size of the littlies when the woodland queen, before she dies, bequeaths a magic bud to her. MK predictably falls for a leaf-boy as Armageddon looms. The animation is lush and dreamlike, to the point of being soporific, with MK’s three-legged mutt stealing the show.