“Mune: Guardian of the Moon,” playing Saturday at Marcus Point and Marcus Palace Cinemas, is definitely the best animated movie in theaters right now. But that's because the competition is "The Emoji Movie" and “Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature.”
Featuring beautiful computer animation and an inventive, complex mythology, the French-made film could have really been something special. Unfortunately, it’s bogged down by some cookie-cutter characters and one-note vocal performances.
“Mune” takes place in a fantasy world divided exactly down the middle between light and darkness. In one half, the sun is harnessed to a giant mobile temple that looks like a bison, trudging across the daylight landscape. In the other, the moon is tied by gossamer strings to an ostrich-looking temple that moves across its hemisphere of darkness.
A guardian is assigned to oversee each temple and celestial body. At the opening of “Mune,” the vain Sohone (voiced by Rob Lowe in this new English-dubbed version) is chosen to be the new Guardian of the Sun. A teenage faun-like creature, Mune (Joshua J. Ballard) is the surprise choice to be Guardian of the Moon over the favorite Leeyoon (Christian Slater).
The jealous Leeyoon seeks to undermine the inexperienced Mune, and in the ensuing commotion, the sun is stolen by an underworld creature named Necross (Davey Grant). It’s up to Mune, Sohone and a strange girl named Yule who is made of wax, and can live in both the light and dark hemispheres, to get the sun back.
It’s an intriguing and original mythology that only gets richer (or, depending on your point of view, more convoluted) the deeper we get into “Mune.” But the characters don’t live up to that rich world, a collection of stock stereotypes we’ve seen in a hundred other animated movies, from the cool-guy hero Mune to the sneering villain Necross. Patton Oswalt and Ed Helms voice a couple of Necross’ little henchmen, who are supposedly there for comic relief. It must have been funnier in the original French.
Also, it’s clear that Yule should be the hero of “Mune,” not Mune. She’s straight out of the classic Disney heroine playbook, a one-of-a-kind creature too brave to listen to her overbearing father or adhere to the customs of her world. Instead, she’s largely second fiddle behind Mune, who is just not that interesting.
The colorful computer-generated animation and visual flourishes certainly carry “Mune” a lot of the way. In a nifty touch, Mune is able to slip into characters’ dreams, which are represented as zippy, old-fashioned hand-drawn animation.
In the end, though, “Mune” uses a lot of imagination and flair to tell a familiar story. While young kids may be enthralled, and parents may give it a pass because it’s so pretty and distinctive to look at, “Mune” misses its chance at being a truly original classic.