Director/Producer – Stephan Schesch, Co-Director – Sarah Clara Weber, Screenplay – Ralph Martin & Stephan Schesch, Based on the Book by Tomi Ungerer, Music – Louis Armstrong, Ofri Brin, Mariechen Danz, Iron Butterfly, Jazziki, Jun Miyake, Salon Mondial, Alex Proud, Queensgang & Klaus Waldeck, Animation Supervisors – Chen Ceslik & Helen Yiluk, Production Design – Robert Brandt, Volker Krafzel, Stefano Scapolan & Marie Thorhauge. Production Company – Schesch Filmkreation/Le Pacte/Cartoon Saloon/La Banque Postale/Image 4/Cinamage 6/Cofinova 6/La Sofica Manon 2/Orange Cinema Series.)
The Man in the Moon is swept up by a passing comet and comes down to Earth. He wanders through the world, curious and innocent but also lonely. His absence means that children are unable to sleep at night. The President has subjugated everywhere on Earth and decides that the only place left for him to conquer is The Moon. He appeals to the scientist Bunsen van der Dunkel to build a rocket. The Man in the Moon ends up at van der Dunkel’s laboratory and is befriended by the professor who teaches him to talk. Understanding the Man in the Moon’s desire to return home, van der Dunkel plans to place him aboard the rocket. However, The President seeks to capture the Man in the Moon to further his plans for Lunar conquest.
Moon Man (1966) is a classic children’s book from French writer/illustrator Tomi Ungerer. Everywhere one reads comments about the book, it was said to have been praised by Maurice Sendak as one of the best children’s book of its period. A portrait of Tomi Ungerer can be found in the US-made documentary Far Out Isn’t Enough: The Tomi Ungerer Story (2012), covering not just Ungerer’s life as a children’s writer but also as a satirist and controversially as a writer of adult erotica.
Short film versions of Moon Man have been made in Europe in 1981 and 2006, both of these also being animated. This is the first feature length version of any of Tomi Ungerer’s books. It was a pan-European financed production made by German director Stephan Schesch who makes his directorial debut. (Schesch had previously produced the short film The Three Robbers (2007), also based on a Tomi Ungerer children’s book). Tomi Ungerer himself narrates the film.
You come to Moon Man inured by the utterly processed product being churned out by studios like Blue Sky, DreamWorks and, these days, even Pixar who seem to be heading down an interminable sequel trail. These have made the English-language children’s film into a tedious and formulaic beast – peopled with cutsie sidekicks, constant pop culture gags, smartass one-liners, slapstick chases and slick 3D animation. As a result, one is gently surprised by what Stephan Schesch produces here. It is a film that Schesch and his team have animated by hand (something that has rapidly become an archaic artform with the omniscient rise of CGI animation since the mid-2000s). They stay true to the original story, never widely elaborating beyond the basics and keeping faithfully to Tomi Ungerer’s original illustrations for the characters. The result has a freshness and sweetness in its simplicity. There is nothing formulaic, no emotional peak that ever seems unearned, no sense that the filmmakers are standing there with a cue card telling you what to feel.
Moreover, this is a children’s film that can be enjoyed just as much by adults. The plainness of characters and storytelling makes it for children, while the care that has been lavished on the artwork make it a work that holds considerable beauty for adults in the audience. Some sequences such as the Moon River gag – where the Louis Armstrong version of the song plays out as the Moon Man floats down a river as the screen opens up amid a gorgeous colour palette – are delightful. Stephan Schesch peoples the film with all manner of droll and appealing sight gags – Professor van der Dunkel’s eccentric range of clockwork Rude Goldberg gadgets, The President’s array of stuffed animals that prove to be still living and the like. Some of the scenes – the Moon Man’s attempt to jump up at a full moon that fills the sky and return home – and heartrendingly lovely. The film arrives at a gentle, sweet message about loneliness and friendship and does so without taking a single wrong step.
(Screening courtesy of the R2R International Film Festival for Youth)