The depiction of a dog’s life on screen often leads to one needing a box of tissues by the time credits start rolling. Many of these films are really good, but a large portion of them are emotionally manipulative in a way that is effective in the moment but leaves you feeling hollow in the long run. The new French/Romanian animated film Marona’s Fantastic Tale gives you the emotional gut punch that only a furry friend can provide while avoiding indulging in cheap sentiment. From the opening moments, the audience knows that the titular pup will end her journey in the street in the presence of someone who cares for her. It is in these final moments that Marona takes the opportunity to reflect on her life in a meaningful way. Despite the inventive, expressionistic nature of the animation, the film is very grounded in the way it approaches the end of the road. Director Anca Damian is none too interested in exploiting a tragedy; the purity of spirit and lessons learned from this canine will be enough to make your heart burst open.
From the very earliest moments inside Marona’s head, it is easy to fall in love with this big-hearted pup. The product of a romance between a formerly “racist” Dogo Argentino guard dog and a mixed-race canine, Marona approaches the world with very little in the way of expectations. Her only real desire is to be loved and maybe be treated to the occasional bone. The youngest of a litter of nine, you almost want to reach out and give Marona a hug as she discusses being content with only getting one-ninth of her mother’s love. In the classic case of last in, first out, young Marona is the first to be given the boot out of the unwanted litter of puppies. Separated from the love of her mother and siblings, Marona begins her long, often tragic journey on which she will display a level of gratitude and hopefulness to those who show her kindness. It may come as quite a shock to the audience that Damian does not go the conventional route and opts to show characters that are not entirely good or entirely bad. Sometimes people are just not capable of providing consistent love.
Her first human is the acrobat Manole, an excitable young gentleman who bounces around like spaghetti being held together through sheer force of will. Manole apologizes to his new pup about the sorry state of his apartment upon her entry, but to Marona this place is a magical wonderland that she would be content to stay and love her owner forever. The free-flowing use of animation mirrors the internal excitement bubbling within Marona; the young pup soars through the universe and around planets with such weightless grace that you feel transported right alongside her. Yet, this is not meant to last when career goals and depression rears its ugly head. A cyclical theme for Marona, she enters into the lives of many people who are good to her for a while before something out of her control upends her life. Even the young girl, Solange, who gives her a somewhat stable home does not provide the idyllic you feel that she deserves after such hardship. Marona may not be treated any worse than the average dog, but it is such an unusual depiction that you will want to grab your beloved animal and hold it a little closer.
The story may be somewhat unique in how it depicts the life of a dog, but where it really shines is in the jaw-dropping 2-D animation on display throughout the film. The art is unburdened by realism in any respect, as it uses Marona’s perception of the world to influence the style of animation on display. The animation is not crisp and structured, but rather messy and erratic in the most thrilling way. Even small moments like a woman taking down her hair from a bun finds her fiery locks extending through the air and oscillating like seaweed on the ocean floor. Every location and character offers up a trippy surprise that would stun even if presented silently, independent from the story. Thankfully the film is not silent, as there are moments where the story, the animation and the devastating score works together in tandem to create something truly transcendent. Marona’s Fantastic Tale is an example of unfettered imagination given license to indulge in the creative whims that reside deep inside. Rarely do you get to witness something so thoughtful, so honest and so moving.
Marona’s Fantastic Tale comes to Blu-Ray from Shout! Factory with a stunning and vibrant 1080p transfer. The colors present in this transfer are practically leaping off the screen with the wide range of hues permeating every inch of the frame. The textures, from the character designs to the environments, are extremely impressive and give the film a real sense of depth. One of the areas where the film really shines is the fluidity of the character designs as they slither throughout the world in the most untethered manner. The subtle details that are added to each individual help to show the care put into the animation. Each environment has a personality that shines through in the best way. Black levels are incredibly strong with no hint of compression artifacts or digital anomalies of the sort. The only very minor flaw is the occasional spot of banding, but it is not a massive issue. This is simply a beautiful looking Blu-Ray presentation.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless track is presented here in its original French and an English dub with optional English subtitles. The track is a lovely sounding experience that brings the movie to life in a really pleasing manner. Dialogue comes through crystal clear at all times without being overshadowed by any of the worldly sounds or the incredible score. The latter is precise in its placement throughout the room as it envelops the audience. The track employs occasional activity in the low end to give a bit of weight to the more kinetic moments. There is also a nice amount of sonic detail in the surround channels as the sounds of a bustling city creates a world fully realized. The English-language cast does a fine job, but stick with the original French track for creative purity. This is a stellar sounding release that should more than please fans of the film.
- Interview with Director Anca Damian: A thirteen-minute interview with the director of the film in which she discusses her personal reason for choosing to tell this story, how the film impacted the non-dog-owners who worked on it, how her son got involved in writing the script, the importance of using animation to tell the story and more. This is quite a lovely interview that offers great insights into the story.
- Q&A at Animation is Film Festival: A 23-minute Q&A with Director Anca Damian in which she discusses her inspiration for the film, working with her son, getting the film funded, crafting the animation style and more. This is a great inclusion for audiences.
- Art Gallery: Navigate through a collection of images related to the film including character designs and other images from the world.
- Trailers: A selection of trailers are provided here including the US Trailer (Subtitled/Dubbed), the US Teaser and the French Trailer. They all do a wonderful job of selling the emotion of the film.
Marona’s Fantastic Tale is one of the most visually exciting feats of animation that I have seen in some time. Every scene is bursting with life in an effort to convey the emotions of the story. This bittersweet tale of a dog’s life will draw you in with the stunning animation and steal your heart with the poignancy of the story. Shout! Factory and GKIDS have provided a Blu-Ray with a resplendent A/V presentation and a few compelling special features. This film is a real treat for all ages. Highly Recommended
Marona’s Fantastic Tale is currently available to purchase on Blu-Ray + DVD and Digital.
Note: Images presented in this review are not reflective of the image quality of the Blu-Ray.
Disclaimer: Shout! Factory and GKIDS have supplied a copy of this disc free of charge for review purposes. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.
Dillon is most comfortable sitting around in a theatre all day watching both big budget and independent movies.