Jekabs, Mimmi un Runajosie Suni (Jacob, Mimmi and the Talking Dogs)

Here’s the thing about American animated children’s films: they suck. They’re all the same- Pixar, Disney, Dreamworks, it doesn’t matter- every single thing they crank out follows the same tired plots, the same generic “spunky” protagonists, the same watered-down hero’s quest, the same, the same, the same. Whether it’s 3D animation or hand-drawn 2D, whether it’s talking Toys, rebooting a fairy tale, or appropriating Mexican folklore, it all boils down to the same dumb story over and over.

But step outside America, and you have a world of animated cinema dancing to a different drum. From the existential, timeless pacing of Studio Ghibli films to Aardman Animation to lots of stuff you’ve never heard of but is out of this world, there’s plenty of wonderful, mind-expanding art for savvy parents to expose their children to- and most of it is great for the parents, too.

Jekabs, Mimmi un Runajosie Suni is not flashy or especially groundbreaking, but this little Latvian gem brings such a refreshingly different perspective to what we’re used to that it should be required viewing for Americans. The plot is pretty straightforward- a city kid goes to visit his cousin in a country village that happens to have talking dogs (not everyone can understand them- just the kids) and other odd quirks. Like so much Slavic art, its characters pull no punches and speak to each other pretty bluntly, leaving little room for flowery bullshit- in this world, kids are independent and not condescended to. Helicopter moms, beware.

Surreal touches- like Jacob’s ability to draw something that is then replicated in real life- are introduced in a matter-of-fact way, with no need for explanation or resolution. They just are. And even though there is a “hooray, the village is saved!” storyline threading this film together, it’s not really integral to the success of the film. Rather, it’s the colorful characters, their straightforward sensibility, the sharp dialogue, and the beautifully crafted, quirky aesthetic approach from director Edmunds Jansons that makes this quiet and underplayed film worth your time.

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