Mosley’s invigorating, timely tale overrides any shortcomings

Temuera Morrison, Rhys Darby and Lucy Lawless lend their voices to this animated feature from Kirby Atkins (who also stars), produced by Kiwi animation house Huhu Studios in collaboration with China Film Animation.

It might not always hit its visual marks, but the originality of the story won Liam Maguren over.

New Zealand hasn’t created a film quite like Mosley. Though it’s the third animated feature made in Aotearoa, it wouldn’t make sense to compare this family flick to Murray Ball’s irreverent phenomenon Footrot Flats: The Dog’s Tale or Leanne Pooley’s ANZAC doco 25 April. It’s an all-ages adventure squarely focused on a story writer-director Kirby Atkins has been waiting two decades to tell—and it’s one worth telling.

The tale centres on Thoriphants, horse-sized elephant-like creatures that can speak and comprehend human language. However, these greedy humans value their brawn over their brains, forcing Thoriphants into lives of servitude and, in Mosley’s case, backbreaking labour on a farm.

Sounds pretty heavy for a children’s movie, but rest assured that they get the most heartbreaking moment out of the way in the opening minutes. (Be prepared, though: it’s a Bambi-level gut-punch.)

Voiced by Atkins himself, Mosley is a fairly run-of-the-mill hero placed in a situation more compelling than his personality. He’s only known farm life, so for the sake of his child and pregnant partner, he keeps his head down and the fields ploughed. At first, he doesn’t want to learn more about the tales of historical Thoriphants that stood upright in fear of disrupting his merciless routine. But when he’s forced to run, Mosley goes in search for their help.

John Rhys-Davies and Rhys Darby deliver predictably superb vocal performances as fellow Thoriphants Mosley encounters. And while Temuera Morrison doesn’t say much as a silent-but-deadly hunter, he makes every single word growl with menace.

As the journey unravels, Mosley‘s real-world parallels become clearer. Perhaps the most invigorating comes from the story’s emphasis on whakapapa and how learning one’s cultural background grants them a certain strength. There’s also a plea to move away from disrespecting nature for the sake of profit—a timely moral given the current climate crisis. Mosley doesn’t get automatic praise for simply tackling these complicated ideas though; it earns praise for making them easy to understand in an enjoyable adventure setting.

Unfortunately, the art direction doesn’t always live up to the story’s power. While it’s easy to forgive technical grunt that doesn’t quite match blockbuster studios like Disney and DreamWorks, certain design choices and colour palettes come off a little bland—especially the farm with its vapid sense of space and overwhelming use of oranges and browns.

Fortunately, other vistas prove more memorable. Luscious valley waterfalls, illuminating cliffside fireflies, a surreal infinity forest… there’s enough inspired environments to justify a big-screen viewing. The animation impresses even more, especially when it comes to character expressions—these Thoriphants emote just as hard as any Pixar toy.

Though Mosley makes for a mixed bag of visuals, it gets the most important job done: servicing the story. With the current state of children’s cinema clogged up with merchandise tie-ins (I’m glaring at you, UglyDolls), seeing something as original as Mosley caresses a cynical heart.