Manou isn’t like other birds. Or more specifically, he isn’t like those among whom he has grown up. Despite experiencing his formative years in a seagull colony, Manou is actually a swift. A switched-at-birth back story (which is hastily brushed over) means that Manou must try and fit into a society which has no real place for him, all the while pushing down his base instincts and seeking to stay loyal to those he loves.
It’s an apt premise for the modern era, with many parallels to be drawn regarding multiculturalism and the recent rise of its protectionist counterpart. Despite swooping back to a satisfying conclusion, the film actually ploughs an opposite furrow for much of its runtime, insisting that Manou would be far better off with his own kind. With the state of the world as it is, it’s pertinent to ask how wholesome a message that is to be feeding to today’s ankle-biters, even if an abrupt about-turn is performed at the closing curtain.
Aside from a confused moral to its story, the film is also technically unstable. Some of the animation is absolutely outstanding; the rippling waves and the reflected sunrays are, at times, almost a vision of paradise, but for every breath-taking scene, there are a handful of clumsily-handled fade-to-blacks and unsubstantiated segues. Some characters’ lines are cut off mid-sentence, others are drowned out by music or ambient noise. It seems unfinished at best and amateurish at worst.
The narrative is also incredibly uneven. Rather than following a logical progression at a measured pace, the story skips from one set-piece to another, hanging them together without much thought for flow or continuity. It’s as if the writers have inherited a playbook of all the scenes that are supposed to feature in a children’s animation, then hastily pasted them higgledy-piggledy on top of one another. Incoherence and inconsistency rule the day.
Parachuted into this mess of a film are a capable voice cast headed up by two Hollywood stars in Willem Dafoe and Kate Winslet. While both are competent, neither are given enough meat on the bones of their characters (or any others, for that matter) to really turn in a performance of any note. As such, it’s a colossal waste of both acting talent and animation skills, resulting in a film that flatters to deceive and isn’t entirely certain of its message.
Of course, for a younger generation, the bright visuals and funny birds will probably enough to hold their attention with no complaints, but the sprawling and unpolished nature of the film means it can’t hold a candle to others in its canon.