Feature Animation

'Into the Wonderwoods' (2024) by Vincent Paronnaud and Alexis Ducord: Film Review

Into the Wonderwoods animation feature still

If you’re ever to see an animated film budgeted at 10 million Euros and already bursting at the seams with life, this is the one. ’Into the Wonderwoods’ (‘Angelo dans la forêt mystérieuse’) brings together ‘Persepolis' co-director Vincent Paronnaud and ‘Zombillénium’ co-director Alexis Ducord for an impressive new animated feature that follows a young boy in search of his family, journeying through a magical forest to do so. The film is based on the French comic book ‘Dans la forêt sombre et mystérieuse’, written by Paronnaud under the moniker Winshluss. ‘Into the Wonderwoods’ just enjoyed its world premiere in the Special Screenings section of this year’s Cannes Film Festival and will move to Annecy in its feature film competition.

Angelo (Dario Hardouin-Spurio), a ten-year-old boy, lives with his father (Benjamin Carlier), mother (Marie Nonnenmacher), and two siblings. The family drives to see Angelo’s beloved but ailing grandmother (Yolande Moreau) — but at a rest stop, Angelo is accidentally left behind. From there, Angelo convinces himself to venture into the forest to find his family. In the titular woods, he encounters a variety of spectacular talking creatures, including a squirrel, Fabrice (Philippe Katerine), who wishes to fly; Franky (Boris Relhinger), a fast-talking frog with a caterpillar friend; a fluffy cloud with anger management issues; Zaza (Prune Bozo), a young ogre girl who takes a liking to Angelo, and Goouh (Emmanuel Garijo), who takes the form of a very large but friendly bipedal grass monster. To get to his grandmother, Angelo must join them to battle a villain, Ultra (José Garcia), who seeks to destroy the forest to find the Spring of Life.

Fantastical with a side order of sci-fi, ‘Into the Wonderwoods’ is playful, fun, and humorous (even for adults) while sometimes bordering on too chaotic: There’s just no way the audience ever knows what will be thrown at them next, which makes the story exciting but also messy. Angelo’s trek eventually collides with the mission of “The Resistance” against Ultra, whom he is introduced to via Zaza — who, in a bizarre turn, declares her love for him upon their first encounter. But the majority of the narrative divorces the boy from the eventual climactic fight against the supervillain, through which Angelo otherwise makes his way through this magical forest, which consists also of a heat- scorched valley and even a snow-covered landscape.

An inordinate amount of visual and narrative material is packed into this otherwise bouncy and clever film, acting as cinematic overload. Visually, the film is filled to the brim with impressive animation styles, at times changing unnecessarily, as if to flex versatility. The story begins with a flatter, more cartoonish style that reflects Angelo’s own imagination and where he appears as an extraordinarily buff adventurer, his Calvin from ‘Calvin and Hobbes’ fantasy world where he is always the hero. The majority of the film takes place in what can be seen as “reality”, which consists of a bubbly and vivid 3D computer animation style that can adopt both a sense of childlike wonder as well as eeriness in scarier moments. Creature animation is at its best in the 3D style, with bulging eyes and expressive faces stretched to their limits. There are also shorter sequences that reflect recognizable animation styles, such as a short black-and-white ‘Steamboat Willie’-esque film-within-a-film and a montage that evoked ‘The Flintstones’.

Watch the 'Into the Wonderwoods' trailer (in French):

Many of the character choices have parallels with other famous commercial animated characters, such as Goouh, who acts like Marvel’s Groot — a slow-moving, nature-based creature who communicates only by saying his name. The film’s villain, Ultra, a Megamind-like madcap character, seeks his MacGuffin by flying around on a massive spaceship with an army of one-eyed robots who sing laudatory songs about him. Here, we seemingly have a Gru-and-minions ‘Despicable Me’ set of characters. All of these are tried-and-true characters for a reason, but one can’t help but wonder why the similarities seem to be so simple to draw — are they just successful archetypes?

It’s easy to see how the animation style sprung to life from the comic book, with many of the characters and landscapes remaining similarly drawn but now in three dimensions. A strong foundation certainly begets a strong product, as ‘Into the Wonderwoods’ demonstrates — but sometimes, less is more.

contributed by: Olivia Popp

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