Three Imaginary Girls

Seattle's Indie-Pop Press – Music Reviews, Film Reviews, and Big Fun

My latest SIFF adventure was extra special for me because it was my son’s very first movie in a movie theater. We went to see the Family Picture Show, which is a series of 10 short films all made (ostensibly) for children, culminating with the newest Wallace & Gromit short, A Matter of Loaf and Death.

My son and I both wished they’d started with the Wallace & Gromit movie, so I’ll go ahead and lead with that. As you might expect, it was totally awesome. Nick Park has established the convention for his characters’ adventures so well now that he can leap right into the action, so this one is a little faster paced and more kinetic than some of the earlier ones. My son adored it, even though he had had more than enough of sitting still by that time. This time our heroes are bakers, and their town is being terrorized by a serial killer targeting—oh no!—bakers. Many hijinks involving awesome inventions and canine ingenuity ensue.

Most of the sorts were enjoyable and sweet and more or less memorable depending largely on your taste. Here’s a quickie (short?) run-down of those, then I’ll do my worsts and bests.

  • Madame President. Based on a book by Lane Smith of Stinky Cheese Man fame. A 7- or 8-year old girl walks us through her day as President of the United States, kissing babies, assigning cabinet positions like Secretary of Naps and Secretary of Pets Who Should Be in Their Cages. Cute.
  • Babau. An Italian computer-animated fantasy with a lovely early-80s palette. I mean that in a good way.
  • For Madeleine. A maybe 90-second take on the Allegory of the Cave, with hand shadows.
  • Maggie and Mildred. My son’s favorite, next to Wallace and Gromit. An animated cross-stitch (clever!) about how two children pass the time when Maggie’s mom is out. My son loved the part where they threw cake at one another.

My least favorites:

  • Baggar and Crane. The animation was interesting, but it was much too heavy-handed. It’s a Romeo and Juliet story about the forbidden love between apparently mortal enemies backhoes and construction cranes. The hybrid babies they make are cute, but the whole lead-up was overly intense and violent.
  • Elephants. The only one I truly disliked. The theme seemed to change every 2 minutes, and whatever else about it might have been charming was scuttled by the poor execution. It’s a live-action short about clichéd urban English parents obsessed with conformity, quiet, and monochromatic grey who cruelly suppress any creative instinct in their sweet-looking daughter until their house is overrun with creepy-looking elephants that they can only identify by sending a sample of poop to a pest control outfit. The exterminators can’t round up the elephants until the house is painted something other than grey (because obviously you can’t see elephants against grey flowered wallpaper, duh), so the parents, unable to stand the sight of color, force their daughter to paint the house. Non-sequitur animation sequences involving floating paint ensue while the daughter (sort of?) makes friends with the elephants. The parents return and are mistaken for elephants by the exterminators, and sent to a zoo, where they live out their lives apparently happy to have finally realized that they are elephants and not people, while the daughter lives alone with the elephants eating donuts. By the end I’d stopped taking notes and just wrote “yuck.”
  • Dear Fatty. A stop-motion animated film about a gerbil who’s actually taking the vacation his former owner’s mom told her he was taking, rather than (presumably) telling her that he died. The action is narrated in voice over by the girl’s letter to the gerbil, asking him what he’s doing and more or less begging him to come home. It could have been an uplifting premise—sort of a pet heaven kind of idea—but the gerbil seems totally bored by his voyage, and vaguely annoyed that the girl wrote him at all. All in all I found it a downer, and even the train sequence and floating frogs couldn’t keep my son interested.

And here are my favorites:

  • The Herd. If you ever wonder, as I admit I do, why anyone makes short films instead of feature-length ones, this is a terrific example of why some movies are perfect when they’re short. This one is a little documentary vignette about a deer who joins an ornery herd of cows on an Irish farm, and what the farmers—a mother and her grown son—plan to do about it. Though it lasts only a few minutes, it’s both wholly charming and very surprising.
  • Western Spaghetti. Describing this won’t begin to do this justice because it’s completely visual, but it’s a stop-motion film about making spaghetti and tomato sauce, except most of the ingredients are toys. For example, the spaghetti starts out as pick-up sticks that go in a pot of boiling bubble wrap and come out as colorful rubber bands. Every frame is inventive and hilarious. Judging by the audience reaction, I’d call this the overall parents’ favorite, too.