Quickies: Children and Fantasy Creatures
Like many people, one of my earliest memories of a creature that subverts the expectation of what they really are was the Cowardly Lion from The Wizard of Oz. After run-ins with evil winged monkeys, scary looking trees that threw apples, and one of the most iconic villains of movie history, the gang has a run in with the king of the deep, dark jungle. But after a brief moment of fright, he is subdued and pacified, is true nature revealed. Even the fiercest creature can become a friend with the right temperament. It’s a subversion of archetypes that I wasn’t capable of understanding at the time, but one I can recognize the trend of throughout movie history.
I grew up at a time where the imaginary, fantastical friend took a prominent place in culture. As a young child, the true relationship of Snuffaluffagus as an imaginary friend was something I found silly in a world of monsters and 8 foot tall birds, but one I still could identify with as an only child who had backstories for their stuffed animals and adventures I’d make for them. The holy grail stuffed animal was My Pet Monster, a blue ball of terror that demystified the scariness of ‘Monster’ into a play-pal; The Fred Savage and Howie Mandel film ‘Little Monsters’ created a playground dream world of cool monsters and the possible shenanigans you could have with the creature under your bed; and The Neverending Story had nightmare inducing imagery encapsulated in a feel good story.. Add in The Monster Squad and it’s friendly Frankenstein, my tastes have always been attracted to weird face with a friendly disposition.
Director J.A. Boyona’s latest film A Monster Calls, taps into the spirit of a story that makes a guardian out of that which could be frightening. The terrifying monster this time is a giant helping a young boy cope with his mother’s terminal illness thru a series of stories that help him overcome his fears of the world around around him. It’s not just the Monster’s strength and size that drive them, but the Monster’s cleverness and support that helps the boy feel strong. The strength of children's imagination, and the friends they can make with them, are a great source for storytelling. These shorts share the spirit of a friendly creature and the children that love them.
Fish Friend is all about a little girl who’s just searching for a friendly pet after her previous pets, an Ant Farm, meet a tragic end.. She finds it in a ‘goldfish’ she brings home from the pet store, who becomes her companion … and avenger. Fish Friend wears it’s Tim Burton inspirations on it’s sleeves, but it’s a fun blending of stop motion animation, dark humor and a bright idyllic nature that helps it find it’s own voice.
So You’ve Grown Attached deals with a more abstract ‘creature’, an imaginary friend who to a young girl who’s in that weird phase where she’s no longer a child, but not quite ready for the trappings the world expects of young women. It’s a beautiful and strange vision about what it means to grow up. I discovered it at a time when I had been bingeing a lot of shorts and seemed to see a lot of proof of concept, made for a trailer type shorts - which made Kate Tsang’s beautiful little one off that much more satisfying and exciting.
The final short in this collection is Tufty. While we don’t learn much about the child that comes to love Tufty, we get a lot of backstory about how Tufty came to be. It’s equal parts Jim Henson and David Lynch - it’s a little sweet, a little morbid and a whole lot twisted.