Mia and the Magoo starts out as a perfectly innocuous, cliché-riddled kid’s film whose sole inventive hook is its hand-painted, Cray-Pas-by-way-of-water-colors animation style. The film’s events play out like an amiable, if unmoving, rehash of Princess Mononoke: A girl saves the Tree of Life from a greedy industrialist after she goes in search of her father, who’s trapped hundreds of miles away from her in a cave-in. During its first two acts, the broad strokes of Mia and the Migoo’s characterizations are tolerably mediocre, even when they exhibit a racial stereotype as irksome as a Japanese businessman with buckteeth and a lisp. But once the dimwitted, giant teddy bear-like elemental guardians, all voiced by Wallace Shawn, enter the film, Mia and the Migoo goes downhill in leaps and bounds instead of in increments.
Mia and the Magoo’s story is not archetypal, it’s just almost entirely composed of storytelling tropes that director Jacques-Rémy Girerd and his three co-writers simply didn’t bring develop beyond a crude point. Mia (Amanda Misquez) is your average bull-headed girl on a mission to rescue her father from certain peril. She ignores the pleas of her good-natured trio of grandmothers and goes off in search of her father, Pedro (Jesse Corti), with nothing on her but the clothes on her back and a preternatural certainty that she needs to help her father, wherever he is. Pedro naturally needs that help after a strange monster buries him alive. That kind of disturbance isn’t an isolated incident, which is bad news for evil Mr. Jekhilde (John DiMaggio), the loutish owner of the construction site that talks too much on his cellphone and cares more about making money than he does about rescuing Pedro. The only character trait that redeems Mekhide is the fact that he wants to be a better father to his son Aldrin (Vincent Agnello), even if he just doesn’t know how to do that.
Girerd sink so much effort into finessing the way he presents his story, both in terms of the film’s 500,000 frames of painted animations and its mostly thoughtful pacing, that it’s easy to forgive his story for its almost exclusively derivative nature, but only during its first hour. Once the Migoo rear their heads, all good will vanishes. The Migoo are unwelcomed reminders of the film’s crucial lack of a significant depth of feeling beyond its otherwise piecemeal proceedings.
As an anthropomorphic plot device, the Migoo are cobbled together from various ideas that never coalesce into a satisfying mythos. Each new plot development seems more random than the last. For instance, the Migoo are a group of monsters that are actually just one monster in several different bodies. Also, he, I mean they, can lift things with their minds, but only if they remember to do so. More arbitrary rules and concepts unceremoniously materialize once Jekhilde starts actively attacking the Tree of Life. Apparently, the tree can be blown up by a single salvo from a rocket launcher. It’s also upside down so its seeds are hidden underneath the ground, though even with that added protection, there’s still only one seed left by the time the Migoo try to rescue the tree. There is no context where this kind of stuff makes sense.
The only time during Mia and the Migoo’s third act that Girerd takes time to invest some enlivening details into his cluttered finale is when he gives Jekhilde his comeuppance. Rather than just indoctrinate his kiddy protagonists into thinking that the global crisis is something that they too fight given enough vested interest, Girerd takes time out to make Jehkide a ranting baddy that they can feel safe in hating. The fact that Jekhilde gets hit by lightning while fumbling with his cellphone signals just how churlishly mean the film gets once it arbitrarily sets its mind to saddling Jekhilde with almost all of the blame for the film’s proceedings. If that’s the road to juvenile environmental awareness, then maybe it’s better that they stay blissfully ignorant.