MUNE: GUARDIAN OF THE MOON
Directed By: Benoît Philippon & Alexandre Heboyan
Written By: Jérôme Fansten & Benoît Philippon
Produced By: Dimitri Rassam, Aton Soumache, & Alexis Vonarb
Premiered On: October 14, 2015
Distribution By: Paramount Pictures
In part because of the release of Pokemon Sun & Moon but mostly because this film has been a ginormous surprise for me that I actually took the time to carefully select choice screenshots… before promptly realizing that I had gone into the triple-digit range at any rate. Ladies and gentlemen, I present my review on the film aptly entitled as Mune: Guardian of the Moon a film that is, currently, under examination to be included in the list of nominees for Best Animated Feature for the upcoming 86th Academy Awards and has since already been nominated for four other awards and winning two, the Young People’s Jury Award from the TIFF Kids International Film Festival and the Best Film Award from the Tokyo Anime Award.
Mune: Guardian of the Moon, or Mune for short, originates from France but does not suffer from the usual dismal lip syncing that occurs in most foreign language films due mostly to the fact that the lip syncing matches up to the English language and not French. Whether this is a specific quality for the film itself, similar in fact to the Miraculous Tales of Ladybug & Chat Noir series, or to the version that I viewed, I cannot say.
What is especially noteworthy of this film’s production though is the sheer amount of diversity in its production team. This film has had people as Nicolas Marlet (of Kung Fu Panda & How To Train Your Dragon) as a character designer, Hidetaka Yosumi (of Tangled & Wreck-It Ralph) as character technical supervisor, Sebastian Bruneau (of Hotel Transylvania) as animation supervisor, Aurelian Predal (of A Monster in Paris) as art director, David Berthier (of Despicable Me) as a storyboard artist, and even Bruno Coulais (of Coraline, Song of the Sea, and who is commonly recognized as the Danny Elfman of France) as composer for this film.
Truth be told, if I didn’t know better, I’d swear that this film was the result of a secret cooperation between Disney, Dreamworks, & Illumination Entertainment. Though not blindingly so, there are elements that are unique to those studios that shine in this film. Other, more experienced, critics have even compared it to such films like Toy Story and Princess Mononoke, some even going so far as to say it stands on equal ground to those films.
As to the story of the film itself, it takes place on a world far different from our own, a world that had been trapped in an eternal darkness where no moon or sun shined and thus there was no such thing as night or day. That is, until two valiant souls sought to bring an end to the perpetual nothingness. One took a spear in his hand and harpooned a sun and dragged it down to the planet, bringing forth light and life galore. The other entered the perilous realm of dreams and nightmares and from the lone quarry of moonstone carved forth a crescent moon, bringing it and dreams alike into the night.
Of course, this is already ancient history and now, in the present, the mobile and living Temples of the Sun and Moon have gathered for a sacred ceremony of succession of the Guardians of the Sun and the Moon.
While the old Guardian of the Sun’s succession of his disciple, Sohone, goes without a hitch, for the most part, the same cannot be said for the Guardian of the Moon who, through the choice of the purest creature of the world and likely a living avatar to the Moon itself, disregards the Moon Guardian’s chosen disciple for Mune, a young faun-like creature who, by his own admittance, makes for a terrible Guardian.
This proves to be true insomuch that, due in no small part to the older Moon Guardian’s almost immediate passing, Mune has next to no idea in how to properly steer, let alone control, the living Temple of the Moon and ends up nearly losing the Moon entirely. Matters are made worse when Necross, a former Guardian of the Sun turned Lord of the Underworld, sees the succession as a perfect means of gaining the sun back for himself and destroying the balance between Night & Day forever.
If I may spare a few paragraphs on the main heroes, and top villain, of the film, because really there is so much that I love about them. From their designs to their personalities, to their abilities both plain and extraordinary…
Like the majority of beings in the film, Mune’s people are never given an outright name, just the eloquent description of being denizens of the night whose purpose seems to generally be focused towards maintaining and safeguarding bioluminescent forests and the various creatures therein.
Mune’s people vaguely resemble fauns, or satyrs whichever you prefer, insomuch that they’re nearly humanoid save for their distinctly deer-like facial features, ears, and legs. This in itself is not that surprising as deer, particularly does, are often associated with the moon in Greek and Roman mythologies.
Unbeknownst to the elders of his people, including his own father, Mune is in possession of an extraordinary power likely bestowed upon him by the Moon since birth. By way of waving his arms, Mune can call forth shining motes of dream dust to put even the strongest of adversaries to sleep and can even turn the worst of nightmares into innocent dreams both in and out of the Dream World.
Mune is a quiet and surprisingly quick to adapt to situations that can spring up on him. Almost immediately following the loss of the Moon, he conceived of a way to wrangle it back down to his grasp. He is also quite mischievous for one of his kin, who make it no secret that Mune is almost too childish to consider doing any meaningful tasks.
Sohone, like many of his people from the Day, is a creature composed mostly of rock, tiger’s eye I’d wager, and rather unlike most of his rocky brethren whom resemble vaguely humanoid shapes, save for the elder Guardian of the Sun who resembles a cross between a toothy frog and a triangular shelled tortoise, Sohone has distinctly feline traits most notably in his facial features. While his stony skin would point him out as baring resemblance to tigers, particularly in connection to that one poem of them burning oh so bright within the fires of the night, there’s a distinctive lion quality to Sohone.
Particularly in his strength which was already great enough for him to utilize his own bare hands in his forge where he’s created a wide array of spears and assorted long-pole weapons. Upon receiving acknowledgement from the Sun though, Sohone’s strength has increased in several magnitudes and his body now radiates enough heat cause water to steam at the slightest touch.
He’s brash, he’s arrogant, and by his own admittance hasn’t bother to read anything pertaining to being a Guardian of the Sun and focused everything he had on the physical applications of it, including mastering the art of javelin throwing. Despite this, he has a clear code of honor and conduct, showing that as much as he might be enraged by Mune’s initial antics as a Guardian of the Moon, he was quick to prioritize that saving the Sun, and by extension the Moon, was far more important than any beef that might exist between the two of them.
Of course, Glim might also have had a hand in changing his mind…
Glim, and by extension her father, is a unique being even in a world of talking rocks, plants, and animal-humanoid hybrids. Despite initial belief otherwise, Glim is not a denizen of Day or Night but of dawn and dusk as her people, though again we only ever see her and her father, are made up of a unique blend of wax. Heat from the day keeps their bodies warm and allows them to move about but if they are too close to something incredibly hot or stay too long in direct sunlight, they risk melting to death. Contrary wise, the coolness of the night immobilizes them to such an extreme degree that, for lack of a better comparison, they enter a state of suspended animation and can be caught in a dire situation if they don’t properly set themselves in place beforehand.
Because of her father’s, rather sensible, protective nature, Glim has rarely, if ever, ventured into the outside world and so has amassed for herself a wide collection of books, maps, and scrolls. Glim is undeniably intelligent to a stunning degree as demonstrated when she calculated, with minimal tools and only a few maps, that the Temple of the Moon was off course. What really charmed her to me though was one thing that she did in particular, an almost nonchalant scene in her room wherein we see her writing not scientific facts, nor a romanticized retelling of her witnessing the succession ceremony of the Guardians.
Instead, we see her writing what is undoubtedly her Guardians of the Sun and Moon fanfiction.
I kid you not, I have watched that scene goodness knows how many times and that still brings a Cheshire Cat grin to my face everytime I see it. Do you know how rare it is for a studio, any studio, to acknowledge one of the most common aspects that result from its creations? Few and far between.
Being a… candle person for lack of a better name for her people, Glim has no extraordinary powers of any kind. That does not stop her from doing an undeniably extraordinary act of sacrifice by way of using her very breath to reignite the fires of the Sun, even when every puff causes more and more of her body to melt.
Of the three heroes, I like Glim the best simply for how stunning her animation is both in the real and dream world scenes but most especially in those moments when her waxy body hardens and softens. Comparing the transition to the like of Disney’s Gargoyles, Glim does not just immediately harden into stone nor does she immediately wake up. It is a slow and seemingly annoying process where you see the hardening portions of her wax are subtly, or not so subtly, moving the softer portions just like how one would expected something made of candle wax would do.
The primary antagonist of the film, I admit that when I first saw Necross I had thought him to be akin to the likes of Neltharion of Blizzard’s Warcraft games insomuch that he was a Guardian of the Sun turned to darkness and without any true repentance for him. Yet, as I watched the film, particularly the moments that featured Necross, I did not find myself making any such comparisons though the similarities are still there. Necross was a creature much like Sohone, being made up mostly of rock and some plant life with a cut above his heart from which water flowed. However, upon his corruption, he became a living pile of lava and what once was life-giving water became murderous magma.
Yet, for all that I had presumed him to be the true force of Evil on Mune’s world, as he is the proclaimed lord of the Underworld though the passageway to him and his realm is… sort of safe-guarded by another, Necross is not the true force of evil. It is the creatures that I had presumed to be a result of his corruption or, at the very least, answered to his beck and call as he referred to them as his “precious ones.”
Sinister serpents that appear more like living illustrations that alone may turn one’s mind to darkness but can whose hissed words can be turned away, a whole score of them are beyond even a lone Guardian’s ability to ignore for long if they have no means of drowning out their voices.
This is precisely what nearly happens to Sohone who is slowly turned into a demonic incarnation of himself before he is rescued and restored by Phospho, the former Guardian of the Moon who in his cowardice failed to put an end to Necross’ terror all those centuries ago. The scene itself was rather unnerving to watch not for the transformation that Sohone was undergoing but how the words of the serpents were affecting him especially with how difficult it was to tell which serpent was speaking to him.
“Yesss… Such anger… Such HATRED…! You’re darker than Necrossss… DEMON!”
Brrr! Gives me the chills no matter how many times I hear it.
THE TEMPLES OF THE SUN & MOON
Lastly, the Temples of the Sun and Moon are as I said, living creatures though how alive they are is never fully explored. Were it not for the denizens of the Day being mostly creatures of stone and plants, I’d have thought that the Temple of the Sun was merely that, a temple that was bestowed mobility through sorcery. What’s rather noteworthy though is that the Temple of the Sun has not one but several long iron chains that attaches itself to the Sun and that while it may move with the same slow gait as that of the Moon Temple, there seems to be far more effort put into its every motion. Heck, it is even shown that in order to steer the thing, Sohone must pull upon two massive chains whose links are almost the same size as his hands!
Contrary-wise the Temple of the Moon is a clearly living creature, a strange blend of deer and bird and whose camel-like hump reside the actual means of controlling its motions and the physical gateway to the Dream World. What’s especially noteworthy of this Temple is that it holds the Moon not with iron chain but with spider-silk which is renewed constantly by a small group of… for lack of a better name and because they bare way too close a resemblance to them, moon furbies who also create the harp-like strings that control the Temple’s movements. Contrary to the Temple of the Sun, which became entirely immobile when the Sun was stolen and its flames put out, the Moon Temple when on a monstrous rampage upon the loss of the Moon and was only calmed by Mune’s dream sand.
My final thoughts on this film… If many of you haven’t already guess by the monumental length of words I’ve already written and the sheer number of screenshots I meticulously provided, I consider this one of my personal top ten—nay top five favorite films of all time and give it a rounded 10 out of 10. While I do not doubt that the competition for the Academy Award will be a fierce one this year as always, I truly believe Mune: Guardian of the Moon to be a serious contender if not an outright winner.