In Even Mice Belong in Heaven, death is just the beginning
by Marta Bałaga
- Denisa Grimmová and Jan Bubeníček’s new puppet animation moves into post-production, inviting you to the Heavenly Bathroom
Fresh off a mouth-watering preview at the Annecy Film Festival, Denisa Grimmová and Jan Bubeníček’s Even Mice Belong in Heaven – a co-production between the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia and France – is already ruffling some “slightly stylised” fur. It promises, as all the best animations do, to delight and traumatise children and parents alike with its story of a mouse, angry at the world because she has lost her dad, and a fox: sworn enemies on Earth, who need to put their differences aside as they ascend to Heaven. Luckily, there, nobody eats anybody any more, not to mention the fact that there is also the Heavenly Bathroom – a place where all animals get rid of their natural instincts simply by washing themselves.
While the primary target audience is children aged 5-11, its subject matter alone (based on Iva Procházková’s acclaimed book, which, as argued by the debuting directors, tackles difficult topics with lightness and playfulness, offering hope and optimism) is bound to also move their older companions, still reeling – or maybe it’s just Cineuropa – after seeing the similarly themed 1989 flick All Dogs Go to Heaven. “It’s a film about searching for love and fulfilment,” pointed out Bubeníček during the Annecy presentation. “I really like the foolishness that’s present in there, which doesn’t just apply to the little animals, but mostly to people. Despite the narrative style designed for children, I think it’s much more than a children’s film.”
“The book has achieved worldwide success, so I think this recognition alone has shown the producers its potential,” Grzegorz Wacławek, of Poland’s Animoon, shared with Cineuropa. “We didn’t even focus that much on the ‘death’ part. It’s like falling in love: either you do, or you don’t,” he said, admitting that most films for children don’t deal with such topics. “However, it’s not exactly mainstream cinema – it’s an arthouse proposition, and it can take on different challenges. I don’t have children myself, but talking about death can be difficult, so it’s good that such films are being made. Also, it’s shown very subtly – there is no bloodshed.” Now that’s a relief.
Apart from its focus on the afterlife, the movie is bound to also stand out because of its looks: a combination of classic puppet animation and CG, the latter split between three studios in France. The shoot took 14 months, with 80 different sets and the stop-motion part realised at Barrandov Studios in Prague. As mentioned by the directors, the “real terrestrial forest and the animal heaven” will differ visually, with the first rendered more realistically, while Paradise will allow for more freedom – also when it comes to the sea, with the floating whale cinema and, yes, the Heavenly Bathroom. “After taking the bath, the animals become dazzlingly clean, which is not so with our two main characters, who intentionally avoid it and thus contrast with the others,” it was stated. On Earth, all of the animals will walk on all fours, and their sizes will vary. In Heaven, they will be more similar, with many switching to their hind legs. “As the shared texture for most of the puppets, we have chosen slightly stylised fur. Which not only seems soft and pleasant, but it’s also capable of playing with various lighting conditions. Its coiffure alone is able to eloquently bring out different emotions. Bristled, wet or well-kempt fur unambiguously expresses the characters’ momentary frame of mind.”
So fur, so good – especially as the film moves into post-production, with the premiere scheduled for early 2021. “We are at the finish line, almost touching the ribbon,” said Wacławek. “Our protagonists have been released from the set, and they could come to our office.”
“Denisa Grimmová creates cute and humorous animal characters with a lot of personality, so the decision to make a stop-motion puppet animation came early on in the process. It suited the artistic vision of the authors,” added Vladimír Lhoták, of Fresh Films & Hasuboot. “It was the combination of stop-motion puppet animation with CG 3D computer animation and VFX that allowed us to produce such a visually ambitious story within our available resources.” But while puppetry used to be a popular technique, coming with a sentimental value attached for the directors, are today’s children interested in such techniques? “It’s not like we ask kids for their opinion when we start a new project,” deadpans Wacławek. “It’s the parents who shape their aesthetic sense, and while mainstream productions – mostly American and calculated for a wider audience – are well made and bold, there is another world outside of it all. And whether children will like it depends on us and us alone.”
Even Mice Belong in Heaven is being produced by Vladimír Lhoták, Alexandre Charlet, Grzegorz Wacławek, Piotr Szczepanowicz, Marek Jenicek and Tomáš Janísek for Fresh Films & Hausboot, Les Films du Cygne, Animoon and CinemArt, with distribution by Charades, also responsible for sales, Gebeka Films, CinemArt and New Horizons Association.
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