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Review: Animals look for freedom in odd New Zealand-China coproduction ‘Mosley’

A four-legged animal looks up as a two-legged animal holds its big hand up to the sky.
Mosley (four legs, voiced by writer-director Kirby Atkins) and Deaver (two legs and five fingers, voiced by Rhys Darby) represent different evolutionary branches of the thoriphants, some of whom are enslaved by humans as beasts of burden in the animated New Zealand-China coproduction “Mosley.”
(Saban Films)

The Los Angeles Times is committed to reviewing new theatrical film releases during the COVID-19 pandemic. Because moviegoing carries inherent risks during this time, we remind readers to follow health and safety guidelines as outlined by the CDC and local health officials. We will continue to note the various ways readers can see each new film, including drive-in theaters in the Southland and VOD/streaming options when available.

Mosley” is a strange little movie. The animated New Zealand-China coproduction aimed at kids is a weird metaphor for slavery. It’s set in what appears to be medieval times but looks like the Australian outback and sounds like, I don’t know, the “Deliverance"-y American Deep South? It’s yet another hero’s journey (complete with dark forest); this time, the protagonist must save his people from servitude and a kind of “corrupted” de-evolution.

The enslaved in this case are thoriphants: talking animals who look like crosses between mules and small elephants. Young Mosley is taken from his family and sold to a human farmer; he spends 25 years plowing rough, rocky, dry land. Grown Mosley (voiced by writer-director Kirby Atkins in his feature debut) and pregnant mate Bera (Lucy Lawless) have a child, Rue (Atkins’ daughter, Leah Atkins), whom they realize will soon be sold off as they were. Rue has discovered a cave with ancient paintings depicting the “uprights,” or legendary thoriphants who are bipedal and have hands. Desperate Mosley runs away in search of the uprights, hoping they can free his kind. The humans dispatch a hunter (New Zealand star Temuera Morrison) to retrieve the runaway.

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Mosley will encounter the uprights (two of whom are voiced by Rhys Darby of “Flight of the Conchords” and John Rhys-Davies of “Lord of the Rings”) and learn the truth about them and their species’ divergence; meanwhile, Bera will have a difficult labor and Rue will face permanent familial separation. Some moments are a little dark (tonally) and perhaps frightening for small children. The hunter is brutal and scary. The humor doesn’t often land, despite the presence of Darby.

“Mosley” feels well-intentioned, though its lessons are unclear, especially considering its ending. And more humor and more fully developed characters could have enlivened the familiar hero’s journey template.

'Mosley'

Rated: PG for violence and peril, thematic elements and a smoking image
Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes
Playing: At the Laemmle Newhall, digital and on demand Friday.


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