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  • Jonathan Widran

MICKEY'S TREE - A Film By Belton Mouras, Jr. (Short Review)

In the heartfelt “Director’s Statement” video Belton Mouras, Jr. shares on the website promoting his beautiful, deeply emotional and spiritually transcendent short film “Mickey’s Tree,” the multi-talented writer, producer, director and film composer offers an intimate glimpse of the inspirational real-life bond shared by him and his beloved dog Mickey that inspired the project – which earned an “Official Selection” accolade at the Palm Springs International Short Fest.

It’s certainly not necessary for viewers to know the real-life history of Mouras and Mickey to get their hearts, minds and souls immersed in the fictional story he created. Yet knowing a bit of the real story allows viewers to bring a certain extra insight to watching the film. As we follow the lead character, 18-year-old Mario (soulfully and poignantly portrayed by charismatic newcomer Deniro Gomez) through the joys of those mystical walks and quiet moments with the dog he calls “best friend” in the woods, we can imagine Mouras reliving his own time with the Mickey’s real-life counterpart.

As he takes us along on the journey, his intention seems less about autobiography than giving us a poignant, ultimately redemptive and triumphant story that we can connect our personal experiences to. Driven by intensely passionate, realistic and heartfelt performances by Gomez, Deborah Bromley (who brings grace, wisdom and compassion to her role as Mario’s mom Maria) and David Hines as Mario’s ex-military and fellow dog lover uncle, “Mickey’s Tree” would be a great triumph even if the story were limited to the scenario about the love of a teenage boy for his dog. It would be a powerful narrative about the impact pets have on our lives and the importance of having a supportive, loving family during times of distress.

Yet Mouras’ deeper genius as a storyteller is revealed through his subtle introductions of the many themes he artfully infuses into this basic premise. First is the importance of art therapy and inner child therapy in healing from early trauma and painful losses, both introduced by Mario’s therapist (Richard Lui). Perhaps the most magical/mystical element in “Mickey’s Dream” is introduced by the dual character of Eve/Bella (played charmingly by Michelle Macasero). As Eve, she appears mysteriously by the tree twice early on, the first time somehow knowing Mickey’s name, and saying perhaps the dog and the tree are kindred spirits. Macasero later appears (with a different haircut and shyer personality) as Bella, a mysterious newcomer to the art therapy class.

Just as the film itself engages on a multitude of emotional and spiritual levels, the soundtrack Mouras has created to accompany “Mickey’s Tree” seems designed to take the experience to an even deeper, more dynamic place. While the 12-track album features a few pieces that appear in the film – most notably, the jazzy piano romp “Mickey’s Swag,” which accompanies Mario and Mickey’s walks in the woods – Mouras presents it as a standalone project full of thematically relevant vocal tracks that range stylistically from folk pop and jazz to infectious mainstream pop and whimsical rap/hip-hop. The single promoted from the soundtrack is titled “Don’t Let the Music Die,” but doesn’t resemble Bella’s version at all; rather it’s a fusion of jazz, African flavored vibes, exotic soundscapes and percussion and chants featuring Ann Roach on lead vocals, Otis Mourning on saxophone and Keith A. Stafford singlehandedly providing an intoxicating four-part harmony on the low, haunting, syncopated backing vocals.


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