Moonbound

**1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Moonbound
"Where charm might be lacking, wonder is not."

Moving house is stressful. Starting at a new school is stressful. Growing up is stressful. Life is pretty tough all round for Peter (voiced by Aleks Le), and all the more so because he has to put up with an annoying little sister. Anne (Lillian Gartner) is at that age where she feels it necessary to declare almost every thought that comes into her head. She's particularly fond of making up fantastic stories, and Peter is so fed up of them that he declares he wishes he could send her to the Moon. Then the Moon Man (Drew Sarich) kidnaps her, and he realises that it's his duty as a big brother to get her back.

The fourth animated feature from director Ali Samadi Ahadi (after the Pettersson Und Findus trilogy), Moonbound is based on 1915 German children's book Peterchens Mondfahrt (Little Peter’s Journey To The Moon), by Gerdt Von Bassewitz. The cannibalism has been removed and an extra dose of family values added to placate nervous parents in more censorious countries but the gist of the story remans the same - as does its motley collection of characters (with a few minor adjustments). The trouble is that where Von Bassewitz had plenty of room to develop them all, Ahadi is under considerably more pressure. There's a reason why it's easier to adapt a film from a short story than from a novel. Leaving little out means that the characters have needs been compacted into versions which may charm those who know them from elsewhere but which is likely to leave newcomers cold.

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The vocal performances are also an issue, with the two actors voicing the children endeavouring to convey emotion mostly by changing the speed and volume of their utterances. It's all very full on and will probably work for very young viewers but leave their parents exhausted. The good news for little ones is that although there are various elements of threat in the story, these are presented in ways that it takes a bit of sophistication to understand, so rather than being immediately scary the film can be explained by a parent to whatever extent is appropriate for the child. It will easy for young viewers to appreciate the children's desire to be reunited without having to worry about other characters being enslaved or bombed. There's also a sub-plot about how badly the Moon Man treats his girlfriend which will make a good talking point for kids ready to think about the importance of valuing oneself in relationships (of all kinds) with others.

Th rushed approach to characterisation means that overall the film lacks the charm of the original story, but the central characters both have positive character arcs which make room to address subjects like bullying, the importance of imaginative play and the fact that being small doesn't mean one can't get one's way if one is also smart. The weather spirits Peter meets on his quest are nicely designed and well suited to further storytelling, drawing etc. The Moon Fairy whose whimsical approach to magic is responsible for several characters' misfortune captures the capriciousness of folkloric spirits perfectly yet remains a sympathetic figure, mirroring the way that adults often seem to young children who can make no sense of their actions.

Where charm might be lacking, wonder is not. The fantastic landscapes of the Moon and related bodies are handsomely presented, drawing on the richness of the book and on Middle Eastern artistic traditions which give them a quality distinct from that of the children's home. There's a good deal to hold the attention visually even when the characters are not being very interesting, and this helps to tide the film through slower stretches.

Although the film doesn't stand well on its own, it has a lot that will appeal to the under-sevens and could work well as a companion to the book or an accompaniment to discussion and structured play.


Signature Entertainment presents Moonbound in cinemas on 6 August

Reviewed on: 28 Jul 2021
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Moonbound packshot
A boy goes on a magical journey with June bug Mr. Zoomzeman and the Sandman to rescue his little sister from the evil Moon Man.

Director: Ali Samadi Ahadi

Writer: Ali Samadi Ahadi, Arne Nolting

Year: 2021

Runtime: 85 minutes

Country: Germany, Austria

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