2014 is shaping up to be one of the strongest years in recent memory for quirky and original animated features. True, there’s the usual spate of sequels—Rio 2, How to Train Your Dragon 2 and Planes: Fire and Rescue—but looking beyond those films, there are some genuinely fresh ideas on the horizon, most notably Laika’s The Boxtrolls, Reel FX’s Book of Life, and Cartoon Saloon’s Song of the Sea. Along with those titles, Disney is putting out one of their most un-Disney-like films ever, the Marvel-derived Big Hero 6, and of course, we’ve already had Warner Bros.’ surprisingly offbeat The LEGO Movie.
Add to the list above the hand-drawn feature Tante Hilda! (Aunt Hilda!) which opened in France a couple days ago. The Folimage film is co-directed by Benoît Chieux and Jacques-Remy Girerd, the latter of whom has directed features such as Mia and the Migoo and Raining Cats and Frogs. Girerd, who founded the studio Folimage, has publicly said that this will be the last feature he directs so that he can devote his time to producing the works of other filmmakers at his studio.
In Tante Hilda!, a hippie botanist named Hilda battles against a food-agriculture conglomerate that has invented a miraculous easy-to-grow cereal with unintended side effects. Its ecological message, a hallmark of Folimage productions, has generated controversy in French media with some critics accusing the filmmakers of indoctrinating children with an anti-GMO, anti-industrial farming agenda. Director Girerd has a more nuanced view of the film’s meaning and explains some of the story’s underpinning ideas in this Variety interview.
Message aside, the film has an exquisite hand-drawn look with loose, energetic linework, and warm, evocative watercolor backgrounds. The character designs also merit recognition: how delightfully rare it is to have a female lead in an animated feature who looks like an actual woman—pretty young girls and Barbie doll-proportioned princesses need not apply.
It doesn’t appear that Aunt Hilda! has been picked up for American distribution yet, but the film will have its North American premiere next month at the New York International Children’s Film Festival.