A film festival favorite from Sundance to Cannes, this unlikely story merges "the poetics of an art film with something that feels like `Die Hard,'" according to its 29-year-old director Benh Zeitlin.

Set in a post-Hurricane Katrina Louisiana swampland, the relationship story revolves around an unruly, precocious 6-year-old African-American girl called Hushpuppy (Quvenzhane Wallis), who lives in a ramshackle hut connected by a long rope to the tree-house shack inhabited by her ailing alcoholic father, Wink (Dwight Henry). Apparently, her mother "swam away" years earlier. Acutely aware of the concrete levee that separates dry land from the tidal basin, called the Bathtub, Hushpuppy imagines the coming flood in terms of Arctic avalanches, releasing fantastic, prehistoric, boar-like creatures called aurochs. Even when a storm destroys her environment, she's a relentlessly optimistic survivalist, firmly believing that balance is the natural order of the universe.

Evoking "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," the narrative is presented in Hushpuppy's poetic voiceover, illuminating with magical realism her wonderment about the brutal, primordial wilderness in which she lives -- particularly when she's on a raft fashioned from an empty truck bed.

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After meeting as teens at New York's Young Playwrights' festival, writer/musician/director Benh Zeitlin and Florida Panhandle native Lucy Alibar developed their concept, based on Alibar's off-off-Broadway play "Juicy and Delicious." Originally, the main character was a 9-year-old boy but when charismatic Quvenzhane Wallis appeared at an open audition, the part was altered to suit her. Other roles are also played by non-actors, like New Orleans baker Dwight Henry. Their grizzled faces with missing teeth resonate with authenticity.

A study of why people go to the movies concluded that we want to cross the transom of our social universe and enter the lives of people we cannot know in our own neighborhood. That's what this movie accomplishes, delivering not only knowledge but ideas, which is why it's significant.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Beasts of the Southern Wild" is a thrilling, transfixing 10, an evocative, contemporary allegory.