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 Ungerers 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 childrens 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 childrens 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 Ungerers 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 childrens 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 Dunkels eccentric range of clockwork Rude Goldberg gadgets, The Presidents array of stuffed animals that prove to be still living and the like. Some of the scenes the Moon Mans 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)