The film reviewer's shorthand for a film like this is probably something like "lyrical", but "magical" seems a popular one-word summary judging from the reviews (and posters; see above!) that I've come across. And they're right. It's a thoroughly enjoyable and affecting tale made wholly memorable by the performances of both central actors, particularly the child playing Hushpuppy. She's simply fantastic. And it does a brilliant job of playing the adult world's trouble and strife as the backdrop to the child's world of exploration and imagination. One touch I particularly liked was that the aurochs, though actually wild cattle in reality (now sadly extinct), are imagined by Hushpuppy (and visualised in the film) as something more akin to giant-sized boars because of her family's "pet" boar.
And, of course, any film that attempts to dramatise climate change - especially in a non-preachy way that's doesn't frighten the horses - gets the big thumbs up from me. Yes, it's too soft on the Bathtub's benign anarchy, and a little hard on the heavy-handed efforts of the authorities to help its residents, but it's a pretty honest and fresh presentation of a not unlikely future. A future that, as Hurricane Sandy bears down on the Eastern Seaboard, doesn't seem quite as far off anymore.
Grade: A- (high +2 on the Leeper Scale)