Watch out, uh, Miraculers, in Miraculous: Ladybug and Cat Noir, The Movie (now on Netflix), your favorite teenage superheroes don’t just save Paris and fight crime – they SIIIIIINNNNNNNGGGGG! This feature-length spinoff of the French Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug and Cat Noir TV series (also on Netflix) not only barely avoided having a highly precarious second colon in its title, it also functions as an origin story AND a musical, so consider yourselves warned. The movie, a standalone story, was engineered to both kowtow to diehards and draw in potential newcomers, so it’s functionally a stab at expanding the reach of the medium-sized franchise, which also includes comics and video games and such. Now what I’m here to determine is whether anyone should give a rip.
The Gist: Marinette (voice of Cristina Vee) is a denizen of Klutz City, population: her. She can’t go anywhere without accidentally bumping into this or tripping over that or smooshing gloop on a mean girl’s fancy-ass sweater. This makes the first day of school absolutely MORTIFYING. Now, it’s worth noting that she has yet to gain the confidence that superherodom brings, but she will soon, via a rather tortured core premise that feels flogged to life by a million wet noodles of a million focus groups. See, there’s this gent named Wang Fu (Paul St. Peter) and he takes care of the Miracle Box, inside of which are gems known as Miraculouses, which release Kwamis, little magical talking animal-things that endow a chosen one with powers. In Marinette’s case, the Kwami is Tikki, the Kwami of Creation, and she becomes Ladybug, a hero in a polka-dotted suit and eyemask who has a magic yo-yo that helps her unleash a variety of nebulous superpowers that seem to be dictated purely by the needs of the plot.
Exactly why does Marinette deserve such an endowment? Well, she saved Wang Fu from being killed by a bus, which is not nothing. Coincidentally, the boy at school that Marinette looks at with glazed-over eyes of confused lust and longing, Adrien (Bryce Papenbrook), is the recipient of Plagg, the Kwami of Destruction, who transforms him into Cat Noir, a rival hero in a leather jumpsuit, mask, cat ears and, yes, a little bell around his neck (to paraphrase Roger Ebert’s take on Catwoman, the movie doesn’t get into the litter box situation). Wang Fu needs them to counteract the deeds of Hawk Moth (Keith Silverstein), an evilmonger who has the power to take the sour emotions of an afflicted individual and transform them into giant monsters. Why does he do this? Because CHAOS REIGNS, it seems. Also, because he’s a widower in great pain. Did I mention he happens to be Adrien’s dad? Oh jeez.
Before we get to Ladybug and Cat Noir fighting a giant croissant monster and a superpowered mime – how frickin’ French can you get? – we need to mention how irritatingly complicated their relationship is. Marinette is totally gaga for Adrien. And Cat Noir is all googoo for Ladybug. But neither knows the other’s alter-ego, so now they have all kinds of feelings to sing about: His mom died, she has social anxiety, both feel the mighty burden of unrequited love. Of course, this contrivance hinges wholly upon the Fallacy of Clark Kent’s Glasses – neither Cat Noir nor Ladybug recognizes each other as their secret identity, because their eyemasks, one presumes, cast such a spell upon observers, they’re unable to recognize that the hero has the same hair, voice, height, weight, body shape, mannerisms, odor, etc. It’s a rather big ask for us viewers. But if you’re going to accept the existence of giant croissant monsters and superpowered mimes, I guess it’s not that big of a deal.
What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: Fun fact: Miraculous COLON Ladybug and Cat Noir COMMA The Movie is the second-biggest-budgeted French film ever, behind Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. Way to spend your money, France!
Watching Hearing: I’ll uses this space to say that this movie features some of the least-memorable voice work ever. Maybe it’d help if the cast had a single interesting thing to say?
Memorable Dialogue: When our heroes vanquish a giant balloon monster by puncturing it atop the pyramid structure outside a famous Parisian landmark, Cat Noir quips, “The Louvre! Good point!”
Sex and Skin: None.
Our Take: As a TOTAL Ladybug/Cat Noir NEWB, I’m happy to report that the movie doesn’t ask anyone to know shit about shit before watching it – you can go in cold and be fine. The flipside is, we have to endure the myriad convolutions of its concept, which make the byzantine bureaucracy of Brazil look like a true-or-false test. You have a master who produces a thing which produces a thing which produces a thing that makes a person a superhero, which is two, possibly three, things too many. Why so many things? I don’t have the foggiest. If all the things fill time so we don’t have to sit through another instance of random singing of a highly forgettable original quasi-pop song, I’ll take it.
The bigger problem is how complicated the premise is in comparison to the story, which is paper-thin generica. One of the things Ladybug and Cat Noir have to learn in order to save Paris from the bad guys? You get three guesses, as they say, and the first two don’t count: Right. Teamwork. Their combined power is greater than the sum of its parts. If they don’t learn teamwork, the bad guys would only partially wreck stuff like the Eiffel Tower and the Notre Dame cathedral. The message here is, Hooray for Teamwork. Have you heard that one before? There’s a couple more: It Sucks If Your Mom Died, and Klutzes Have Feelings Too. Beyond that, good luck.
I don’t mean to be glib, but the film is uninspired, and feels like capital-P Product. It dutifully injects bits of emotion and a love story into a concept and presents it all with animation that’s reasonably dynamic and expensive-looking – all components of formulaic storytelling aimed at a specific demographic. The movie plays it safe and boring at every turn. I’ll let the diehards debate whether it should be canon or not (some MONUMENTAL stuff happens at the end, relatively speaking). And if you’re not a tweener or previously invested in this engineered franchise content, this one’s a hard pass.
Our Call: SKIP IT. Only fanpeoples need apply.
John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan.