‘Even Mice Belong in Heaven’ Is A Refreshing Throwback To Stop Motion Animated Stories – Review
Stop motion animation is an art form that feels rarer and rarer nowadays amid 3D juggernaut film franchises. Hollywood spends hundreds of millions of dollars on highly intricate computer-animated films, but that wasn’t always the case.
An entire generation grew up on stop motion animated films. Some of the most memorable movies used stop motion as a way to stand out in an ever-growing entry of children’s films. Wallace and Gromit, A Nightmare Before Christmas, and James and the Giant Peach all defined an entire generation of future film lovers. Recently there have been a few standouts such as Kubo and the Two Strings but for the most part, the art form has remained quiet due to the rising costs of the specialized art. This leads us to the most recent entry with Even Mice Belong in Heaven, by Czech filmmakers, Denisa Grimmová and Jan Bubenícek who flex their talents with a stop motion tale about a mouse and fox settling their differences in the afterlife.
Even Mice Belong in Heaven tells the story of Whizzy, an overly eager mouse whose father died protecting her from a vicious fox. The tragedy made her dad a legend, while she’s been living in his shadow ever since. Desperate to prove herself worthy of being her father’s daughter, she decides to showcase her fearlessness by grabbing the hair of a nearby fox. This decision leads to a horrible accident leading both the fox and mouse to animal heaven where all creatures live together on fair terms. While in heaven, Whizzy meets the fox she blames for her death, White Belly. What she discovers is not a vicious, brutal, monster but instead, an insecure, stuttering softy who has never hurt a mouse before and only wants to be accepted. As they go on a journey to look for Whizzy’s father, they slowly realize their differences are fabricated products of their environment and not in their nature.
Even Mice Belong in Heaven has the tried-and-true formula of using animals to teach children that the differences they see are just imaginary barriers. Even the scariest predator can have a good heart and is no different from the adorable-looking prey. We’ve seen this before in many animated films, most notably in Zootopia, so the themes certainly felt familiar.
What makes the film stand out thematically is the combination of certain existential questions, of life and purpose. Whizzy and White Belly both have to go on their journeys in heaven, to confront their greatest fears and discover who they are. Since they both died so young, regrets and heavy thoughts fill their minds- should they succumb to their nature and predefined roles in life, regardless of how they feel?
Whizzy realizes that the pain of losing her father to a fox, coloured her perspective on all foxes; presuming they are all evil. Her prejudice sticks out significantly, especially in relation to White Belly, whose innocence and insecurity are met with harsh insults from Whizzy. Through their journey in heaven, the audience quickly catches on that the cute little mouse can be more viscous than the scary-looking fox.
The biggest question surrounding the film is: “how does the stop motion animation translate?” Does it work in tandem with the themes and characters in the film? The question is relevant because stop motion has to be visually acceptable for all ages, considering children won’t get the complicated ins and outs of stop motion. For the most part, the animation style pays off, showcasing tremendous detail in fur, set designs, and expressive eyes in each creature. There were moments at the beginning of the film where it was jarring to aesthetically accept the animation, and some designs felt incredibly simplistic. However, this all irons out by the second act where the animators show off their prowess with massive sets and meticulous movements that felt unique to each character. There is something about stop motion that feels eternally relevant to animated stories for children. It may be the tangible designs of the characters and sets, that feel grounded in the real world yet are juxtaposed with fantastical stories.
The themes and style merge perfectly in the third act where Whizzy and White Belly’s journeys are revealed to be more internalized than previously thought. Huge forests are unraveled into small practical sets and bodies of water transition into starry nights. The trance-inducing fusion of universal existential questions and mind-bending animation felt truly unique to the film.
Even Mice Belong in Heaven is a solid entry in this highly specialized style of animated films. The film skews fairly young in terms of the target audience but the movie can still be enjoyed by all. Patience is the big lesson for both the characters and audience who have to accept that since Whizzy and White Belly are so inexperienced, mistakes will be made. This patience pays off, however, with a heartwarming tale that has a beautiful ending. Heavy themes of life and death are always tough to teach to young children, and Even Mice Belong in Heaven pulls it off pretty convincingly. It is no surprise that the film was nominated for ‘Best Animated Feature Film’ at the European Film Awards.