Edmunds Jansons, Latvia | Poland
I’ve seen my fair share of animated films: with two kids under the age of 10, I’ve got little choice in the matter! But I’m often underwhelmed by the seemingly homogeneous nature of most animated fare for kids (with notable exceptions, of course); I’m particularly allergic to moralizing tales for children, preachy parables that feed kids schlocky soundbites. So it was a lovely shock to my cynicism to be completely moved and amused by this Latvian movie about a pair of cousins who take on a big, soulless corporation in order to preserve an historic suburb of Riga, the capital of Latvia. JACOB, MIMMI, AND THE TALKING DOGS clearly has a moral lesson – teaching kids they are powerful and there are things worth fighting for – but it was so compellingly conveyed that I couldn’t help but fall under the movie’s spell.
Jacob Bird lives with his father, an architect, in the center of Riga, and likes to make drawings of the huge, modern buildings his father designs. When his father needs to travel for work, he brings Jacob to stay with his uncle Eagle and cousin Mimmi in Maskachka, an old neighborhood outside the city’s center that’s filled with rundown but colorful old houses. Yet Jacob is not impressed – not by his headstrong and independent cousin Mimmi and not by the simple charms of quirky Maskachka. That all changes when a construction company from the heart of the city arrives and plans to demolish a local park and build a brand-new skyscraper. Mimmi, a natural-born rebel, quickly mobilizes in order to save her neighborhood from the negative effects of “modern progress.” She quickly realizes that none of the adults are willing to help her – they’ve either been paid off by the construction company or don’t see the point of taking on a corporate giant. But Mimmi manages to find help from Jacob and a band of the town’s talking dogs. Yes that’s right, Maskachka is filled with idiosyncratic and wonderful quirks, from the talking dogs – whose leader also sings a beautiful folk song about the charms of the neighborhood – to a roving band of mimes that pops up here and there. Little Mimmi is outspoken and determined, and yet she learns some hard lessons about how life is not just black and white, or good and evil. She’s a hero for a generation of kids who know (and admire) Greta Thunberg, and in fact the film was selected by the Michel Kinder und Jugend Filmfest Hamburg to be shown on “Environment Day” as part of Climate Week. This was not lost on my 8-year-old daughter who understood that Mimmi is fighting against a company that would wreck her local environment, but that she also represents a positive pushback against the very adult idea that we can’t effect change, so why bother. Mimmi and Jacob can and do have a positive influence.
The colors in this movie, and the style of the illustration, left me grinning like a fool. It’s nostalgic and richly saturated in hues and feelings of a time gone by, but a time and place that’s worth preserving. Before I saw this movie, I honestly (albeit embarrassingly) knew nothing about the Baltic country of Latvia, other than a vague sense of where it can be found on a map! One of the best parts of attending a film festival is seeing movies from places that weren’t on your radar, so I’m delighted that I got to see this one. (DS)