In a just cinematic universe, “Moon Man” would be shining its gentle light at multiplex matinees across the globe. Not just foreign but otherworldly by the standards of current animated features, this hand-drawn German-Irish-French co-production is a calm, kindhearted, visually inventive ode to friendship — and the ideal alternative to the latest batch of abrasive big-screen cartoons.
The film’s English-language version will be available starting Tuesday on iTunes and other video-on-demand platforms.
Ironically for a movie without theatrical distribution, “Moon Man” begins at a drive-in, with dad, daughter and dog enjoying an evening’s entertainment under the stars. Meanwhile, the man in the moon is bored stiff, stuck twiddling his thumbs in the night sky. When a flaming comet passes by, the adventure-craving Moon Man grabs hold of the rock and rides it all the way to Earth, crash-landing in a field and attracting the bemused attention of a moose and an owl.
Bald-headed and pudgy, Moon Man wanders into a festive dance party, earning compliments on his “costume,” and then he goes swimming. Delighted by each new experience, including the smell of flowers, this alien couldn’t possibly be more benign, although the Earth’s megalomaniacal president insists on characterizing him as a dire threat, the better to maintain authority over gullible adults. Kids instinctively love Moon Man, but they can’t sleep without him watching over them from his usual perch. Luckily for them, a soda-slurping, yo-yo-spinning old inventor hits on a benevolent plan to blast Moon Man — his one and only friend — back home.
Based on the children’s book by Tomi Ungerer (whose biographical documentary “Far Out Isn’t Far Enough” is now playing at Edina Cinema), “Moon Man” builds to an action-filled climax, but without sacrificing the film’s laid-back tone or charmingly simple style of animation. Its mood set by Louis Armstrong’s version of “Moon River” (with a snippet of Iron Butterfly’s “In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida” thrown in for kicks), “Moon Man” could pose a challenge to children raised on the usual diet of loud, hyperactive ’toons, yet parents are hereby encouraged to consider it a challenge worth taking.
Also new to VOD
Definitely not for the kiddies (and maybe not for anyone, as some critics have argued), “Only God Forgives” has come straight from its controversial Cannes Film Festival screenings to video on demand. As gorgeously art-directed as it is scuzzy in content, the snail-paced, neon-drenched French-Danish thriller reunites director Nicolas Winding Refn with his studly “Drive” star Ryan Gosling, here playing a monosyllabic Bangkok drug smuggler whose potty-mouthed mom (Kristin Scott Thomas) goads him into getting revenge for his brother’s murder.
Assaultive, pretentious, blandly acted, narratively stillborn and occasionally trance-inducing, the film does need to be seen to be believed, although a good measure of its gory sadism is simply unwatchable.
Rob Nelson is a National Society of Film Critics member whose reviews appear regularly in the trade magazine Variety.