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Review: Handcrafted puppets in ‘Even Mice Belong in Heaven’ bring magic to a friendship story

Puppet fox and mouse stand in a sandbox.
Whitebelly and Whizzy travel through heaven together in “Even Mice Belong in Heaven.”
(Samuel Goldwyn Films)

The Times is committed to reviewing theatrical film releases during the COVID-19 pandemic. Because moviegoing carries risks during this time, we remind readers to follow health and safety guidelines as outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local health officials.

As can be expected from a film intended for children, “Even Mice Belong in Heaven” is a pretty straightforward story that touches on a lot of familiar lessons. But the magic is in the way that it’s told.

Directed by Denisa Grimmová and Jan Bubenicek, the animated film uses old-fashioned stop-motion puppetry (with a bit of CGI) to tell the tale of a young mouse and fox who develop an unlikely friendship during their joint journey through the afterlife. Details such as the textured fur of the handmade puppets and the grass and twigs on intricate sets convey a whimsy and warmth unique to the medium, even in a story that is unafraid to get a bit dark.

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Based on a book by Iva Procházková, “Even Mice Belong in Heaven” introduces us to Whizzy (Simona Berman), a boastful mouse with concerns about her image that seem to stem from having lost her father — a town hero — at a young age. It’s revealed early in the story that she doesn’t have many friends, likely because she’s a bit self-centered and feels the need to lie and showboat to prove she’s just as brave as her father said she was.

This impulse leads Whizzy to engage with a napping young fox named Whitebelly (Graham Halstead). The two soon die in an accident and are sent to animal heaven. Since mice and foxes are mortal enemies, Whizzy expresses immediate dislike for Whitebelly, who turns out to be more shy and timid than a sly predator.

Animal heaven, it turns out, is a journey that involves a lot more tasks and quests than one might imagine.

The film is packed with practical lessons parents likely will appreciate, including the importance of bath time and the dangers of jumping into the street without looking both ways. More resonant are “Even Mice Belong in Heaven’s” deeper themes, like not judging someone based on their appearance (or place on the food chain) and how it’s never too late to learn to become better versions of ourselves.

There are moments, especially earlier in the film, that Whizzy’s personality might make her a bit challenging to warm to, but that appears to be intentional. Regardless, the strong animation makes it worth sticking around to the end.

'Even Mice Belong in Heaven'

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes

Playing: Available on VOD


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