This week’s short article on a short film comes courtesy of a recommendation by Twitter friend @Grizzly_Sar, a lifelong fan of The Lorax who, like most, was thoroughly disappointed by the latest shiny, empty adaptation of the book. So to coincide with the release of that rather lacklustre animation, here is an article and a link to a much older version of The Lorax that does a far better job of capturing the Seussian spirit of the book. It’s no masterpiece, but it’s an interesting contrast to the latest version.
One of my biggest complaints about the latest Lorax film is that it was just a bit too glossy to really make an impact. It was a film that speaks against mass produced rubbish, yet was perhaps guilty of being that very thing. It was a bit too sleek to be true Seuss. So here, instead, is a film that is a far more direct adaptation Dr Seuss, complete with rough lines, rhyming couplets and his distinctive character designs. It’s a lot shorter, but the advantage of this is that they cut out the pointless plot of a boy trying to impress a girl, and get straight to the actual Lorax plot. This section of the plot is remarkably similar to the feature film, in which ‘The Once-ler’ invents a multi-purpose thing called a Thneed, and becomes remarkably successful at the cost of the local wildlife.
It is, however, a far more effective piece of story telling than the Zac Efron/Taylor Swift film, making more of the eponymous character as he tries to defend the trees he loves. It feels VERY 1970s, complete with a funky soundtrack and rubbish songs, but does a much better job of getting the message across. Where the recent film addresses the rampant growth of capitalism with one awful song, here it’s the focus of the film, as each set of animals gets ousted from their home one by one, and we see the machinations of the factory that’s ruining the landscape. Neither film is subtle, neither film will win music awards, but Hawley Pratt’s short has something that was so crucially lacking from the 2012 version: character. It’s a charming, amusing little film, with some nice Seussian artwork and an admirable commitment to rhyming.
Our series of short articles on short animations is back after a hiatus. With so much coming out in cinemas and at festivals, the talented animators out there on youtube sadly had to take a backseat to the might of werewolves and circus afros. Needless to say, it’s coming back with an absolute classic, Yuri Norstein‘s sublime The Hedgehog in the Fog. If you have any recommendations for Weekend Shorts, or if you have made a short animation that is available online, please let me know in the comments section or via Twitter/Facebook.
In The Simpsons, when Krusty loses Itchy and Scratchy to the Gabbo show, he plays instead the Soviet equivalent, Worker and Parasite. It’s a bizarre, incomprehensible mess, and to many that is the prevailing image of Eastern European animation. In all honesty, many animated shorts from this area are confounding, strange little things. Yet there is a rich world of animation out there, and this weekend’s short film, Hedgehog in the Fog is straight out of Soviet Era Russia, and is one of the most charming, delightful shorts I’ve ever seen. Sure, it’s not told with the slick skill of, say, a Pixar short, but essentially it’s a story about a small person lost in a bigger world, who just wants to find his friend. Nothing too strange or odd about that at all.
What is so utterly winning about Norstein’s film is the tone of it. It’s at times unnerving (the feeling of being totally lost is always quite discomfiting for me), but the layered, story book style of animation means that the ten minutes pass like something out of a dream. The fog gives the impression that nothing is quite the way it seems, and as owls and bats flit in and out, and a mysterious horse lingers in the murk, this misty world becomes the realm of the unknown. There is a sensation of curiosity and exploration that runs throughout the film, topped off by the fact that he has taken his journey merely to gaze at the stars. My knowledge of Russian History and Yuri Norstein is severely lacking, but perhaps during the time of relaxation during the cold war known as detente, Norstein’s film reflects an increasing freedom of film makers to explore. The slightly melancholic, fearful atmosphere could further suggest that the freedom is not total and still carries risks. That’s putting a spin on it that I have no basis for, so don’t take it as fact; it’s merely a passing thought.
This short is also a great example of Mickey Mousing, the technique in which the non-diegetic music reflects the movement and action of the film. So when flies flutter in, the piano flutters with them. It just adds to the slightly ethereal quality of the film, which is perhaps best displayed in the moment when the Hedgehog walks with a firefly lantern into the dark. Norstein captures that one moment with such breathtaking beauty that this ten minute film becomes a more effective, haunting and gorgeous piece of storytelling that most feature films can only dream of.
Friend of the blog, and fellow animation fan, Tim Popple is a Bristol resident, so naturally he made his way along to the city’s Encounters Short Film and Animation Festival. Here he gives us a dispatch from the front line of the festival, and more of his writing on the fest, as well as on films in all shapes and sizes, can be found at That One Film Blog.
Until Sunday 23 September, in Bristol, the 18th Encounters Short Film and Animation Festival is on. Animation has long been a staple part of the Festival. Indeed, prior to its current incarnation when it was just an Animation Festival, a certain John Lasseter was a guest. Upon seeing the train track sequence from The Wrong Trousers, Lasseter reportedly looked worried that they were using a toy train. The reason? A certain film he was doing called Toy Story…
With grouping short films together one never knows quite what one will get. One film may be transformative and transcendent, another may be woeful . I was lucky to see the former, and disappointed to see the latter today. I’m at the Festival all week, although not looking solely at animation. Today, however, was all animation, from all over the world, including some home grown talent from right here in Bristol. Particularly noteworthy were Oh Willy, a truly weird fuzzy animation film about a man’s return to his naturist roots, and a bizarre turn of events part way through. Uncategorisable.
Another film that stood out was Head over Heels, a film that took parts from Roald Dahl’s The Twits and Pixar’s Up, and created a film that used weird to its advantage: the central couple live in an unexplained house whereby one person’s celing is the other’s floor. They live in the same house, but with different gravities. It becomes a metaphor for couples never talking, never seeing eye to eye. It becomes a study on aging couples recapturing lost youth, and working out fundamental differences in their lives. It’s quite something.
There is animation to be seen every day during the Festival. Of note is a screening of Paranorman today, with a Q&A with the director Sam Fell. For the children there is an Aardman Animation Workshop on Saturday, as well as a “Children’s Jury” set of shorts specifically for children. If you are in the vicinity of Bristol, it’s well worth coming down. There is literally too much happening for one person to take in, so there is likely something that will take your fancy. And, if animation is your thing – and if you’re visiting this blog, I would imagine it is – then there is definitely something for you. Not least the rare chance to see some of Aardman’s original models up close. It’s a brilliant atmosphere on the harbourside here in Bristol. For more information go to http://www.encounters-festival.org.uk, or www.watershed.co.uk, or for daily updates on all Festival news, animation and otherwise, visit http://thatonefilmblog.com/encounters.