Director – David Alaux, Eric Tosti, Jean-François Tosti – 2022 – France – Cert. U – 95m – English language dubbed version
The adventurous mouse Pattie and her cautious, adoptive parent cat Sam help an ageing Jason and his skeletal Argonaut crew in a voyage to save the city of Yolcos from the wrath of Poseidon – out in UK cinemas in an English language dubbed version on Friday, February 10th
In Greek myth, forever immortalised in the cinema in Jason And The Argonauts (1963, Stop-Frame Animation & FX: Ray Harryhausen), the heroic Jason brings the Golden Fleece to his home city of Yolcos which then enjoys the protection of the Zeus against the unruly antics of the rest of the Gods in Mount Olympus. This French, animated children’s film, in which the two lead characters are anthropomorphised animals and which is released in the UK in an English language dubbed version, begins in that city around half a century later when Jason has reached a ripe old age and all his faithful Argonauts have died.
All the voice credits in the following review refer to the English language voice cast. Animation is different from live action, where dubbing can generally ruin actors’ performances in films, since in animation, voices and visual are created separately then married together. While I’ve not seen the French version, which I suspect is unlikely to appear in the UK, this English language dub is excellent.
Pattie (voice: Sonja Ball), a young mouse, is the object of derision at school for both her desire to be a hero just like local celebrity Jason and her knowledge of his adventures. She also loves books and regularly purchases a lottery ticket in the hope of winning a journey to Alexandria, where she wants to visit the legendary library. A cat named Sam (voice: Mark Camacho), her adoptive father, is concerned that Alexandria is no place for a youngster, so in order to protect her, conceals from her the fact that she has bought a winning ticket, eating said ticket to prevent her finding out.
As the two of them attend the unveiling by Jason (voice: Terrence Scammell) of the city’s new statue of Zeus, it becomes clear that these days the octogenarian hero is prone to nodding off in the middle of delivering a speech. So impressive is the city’s new statue that up on Mount Olympus, Zeus himself (voice: Josh Widdecombe) can’t stop bragging about it to his fellow Gods and taunting his brother Poseidon (voice: Rob Beckett) the God of the Sea, who promptly storms off in a huff and descends to Earth to demand that the people of Yolcos build a statue of him in seven days to rival their statue of Zeus, otherwise he will swamp the city with a tsunami, which he freezes motionless just outside the harbour by way of visual encouragement.
While the good people of Yolcos put everything else aside to build the statue before Poseidon’s deadline expires, Pattie realises that the perfect raw material to represent the sea-gods triple-pronged trident would be the three-pronged, jewel-encrusted sapphire found on the island of Trinatos. Having quite independently come to the exact same conclusion, Pattie uses an ancient dragon tooth to resurrect the Argonauts from their grave, a doddering group of skeletons (including one with a wooden Zimmer frame) who hilariously lack all the fight and passion of the skeleton army they fought in the aforementioned Harryhausen film.
As Jason and crew set sail – at a snail’s pace – peg-legged seabird Chickos (voice: Wyatt Bowen) learns Pattie has read all the ships’ manuals available and gets her on board the ship to help, swiftly followed by Sam who wants to prevent Pattie from getting into trouble.
With Zeus and his fellow male Gods up on Mount Olympus throwing in the odd monster to enliven the Argonauts’ adventure for their own amusement – while Zeus’ long-suffering wife Hera (voice: Giovanna Fletcher) glowers at them to discourage their behaving like little boys – the ship must encounter a storm, a giant sea monster, and – once it reaches the island – an army of hungry cyclopses, a boulder-throwing robot and three giant scorpions.
Harryhausen buffs will recognise two of these as homages to other creatures from his filmography: the cyclopses from The 7th Voyage Of Sinbad (1958) and the giant scorpions from Harryhausen’s other foray into Greek mythology, Clash Of The Titans (1981). The robot looks to be based on the moon robot from A Grand Day Out (Nick Park, 1989). A shot where a tentacle (belonging to a snot-dribbling baby Kraken) rises out of the water and wraps itself around the Argo echoes the Harryhausen’s shot of a tentacle wrapping around a railway goods wagon in It Came From Beneath The Sea (1955).
Further movie references include a shot of Pattie standing at the prow of the Argo as if straight out of Titanic (James Cameron, 1997) and a trio of Mafioso rats at the port of Syracuse who help a stranded Sam get to Trinatos on a dolphin who has been asked to help by the rats as “a favour you can’t refuse”. (“What a charming custom, I must look into it”, says Sam, clearly unaware of the darker elements associated with this concept in The Godfather, Francis Ford Coppola, 1972).
If Epic Tails opts for the GGI animation, talking animals route rather than a Ray Harryhausen stop-frame animation in live action with monsters aesthetic, it remains an obvious homage and the three writer-directors have a lot of fun with it. Surprisingly, perhaps, the fact that they give dialogue to their cyclopses and scorpions, who never utter words in the Harryhausen films, doesn’t detract from the piece overall.
The directors’ love of these films and Greek mythology is evident, yet Epic Tails stands on its own merit as a pretty decent children’s animation. The mouse, cat and seabird manage to stay on the right side of cute and the narrative will hold the attention not only of children but also of adults. Like the two Harryhausen Greek mythology films, it employs the characters of the Gods on Mount Olympus intervening in human affairs like players clustered around a board game constantly moving, adding or interfering with pieces, yet does so with a degree of wit that proves a breath of fresh air.
In short, this animated movie is undeniably aimed at children, but nevertheless proves a lot of fun. And Ray Harryhausen nerds will have a field day.
Epic Tails is out in cinemas in the UK in an English language dubbed version on Friday, February 10th.