Five thousand kilometers. Here is the impressive distance that, every fall, the monarchs of Quebec travel to reach Mexico. This fascinating migration is at the heart of the animated children’s film The Legend of the Butterfly, which takes flight in theaters this Friday.

With its orange wings ribbed with black and spotted with white, the monarch has the ability to amaze young and old alike. Actor Antoine DesRochers also remembers how much he loved this insect when he was a child. “In Chambly, there was a man renowned in the field of butterflies called Monsieur Papillon. He did workshops at school, and I loved it,” says the man who lends his voice to Patrick, a monarch with wings of different sizes, hero of the film directed by Sophie Roy.

In addition to plunging him back into his childhood memories, the scenario charmed the young actor since it highlighted an emblematic local insect whose habitat is threatened. Last spring, Ottawa tabled an order to list the monarch as an endangered species, noting that its populations had declined by more than 50% over the past decade.

“The film is a great opportunity to bring more awareness and information about this species,” indicates the actor who does not hesitate to add his voice to environmental causes. In the past, he notably opposed the GNL Québec liquefied natural gas project.

The legend of the butterfly, however, is not a documentary. The film aimed at elementary school children tells the adventure of a flightless monarch and his caterpillar friend who secretly join the migration of their peers towards Mexico.

Can a fictional story play a role in the fight against climate change? Antoine DesRochers believes that by showing specific problems, a feature film for children can provide food for thought.

“For example, in the film, there is a scene where the butterflies arrive in a place where every year they meet to rest, to be able to eat milkweed. There is a shopping center there,” he explains.

The important role that milkweed plays in the lives of monarchs is the main element that director Sophie Roy would like children (and their parents) to remember after watching the film.

“I want them to know that this flower is super important for the survival of monarchs. It then gives them the power to say, “Mom, Dad, I want to go get a milkweed plant and put it in the garden.” When we are able to act on a problem, we do not feel defeated. We’re in action,” says the director, who is making her first film, enthusiastically.

But be careful: there is no question of Sophie Roy preaching. She does not emphasize the environmental message in broad strokes. She prefers to let the images speak, as in this scene where we see many grassy suburban courtyards passing by. When the insects finally come across one with flowers, they are over the moon.

Even though it is an animated film in which we follow talking butterflies, Sophie Roy wanted her characters to be “as real as possible” so that children could identify with them. In particular, she wanted to understand the reality of young people who, like Patrick, live with a disability.

To do this, while the film project was only just beginning, the director met children and parents through the Papillon Foundation, an organization which helps people with disabilities.

If the voices of the characters, played in particular by Catherine Brunet, Sophie Cadieux and Ludivine Reding, have a very Quebecois accent, it is also so that young moviegoers recognize themselves, indicates Sophie Roy.

“The target age group should not ask questions about what that word means, otherwise they risk dropping out. […] We put everything forward so that the child feels that the film is theirs,” argues the woman who, previously, was executive producer for the films La guerre des tuques 3D and La course des tuques, in which we also hear the accent from here.

Translated into nearly forty languages, The Legend of the Butterfly will also be presented in English Canada, France and Germany, in particular.

At the cinema, spectators will be able to experience The Legend of the Butterfly in three ways: on a traditional screen, with 3D glasses or in Screen X. This is the first time that a Canadian film has been produced for broadcast in these theaters, again rare in the country, in which the action does not only take place in front of you, but also around you thanks to two side screens. “When you sit in the cinema, you really become part of the film,” illustrates director Sophie Roy. For his team, it was quite a challenge. A lot of additional animation was required to bring those two extra screens to life for about a third of the movie. In Quebec, rooms equipped with this technology are found in Cineplex cinemas in Brossard, Laval and Sainte-Foy (Quebec).