Bringing Clay to Life (Stage Fright review)

I have been a huge Aardman fan for as long as I can remember. While I grew up with their bigger hits ‘Wallace and Gromit’, ‘Chicken Run’ and ‘Creature Comforts’, I recently stumbled upon a lesser known, but BAFTA award winning short of theirs, titled Stage Fright (1997). It tells the story of a humble dog trainer named Tiny who is bullied by an actor, Arnold Hugh, to train dogs to do ever more difficult tricks. Eventually, however, Tiny and his friend Daphne turn on the evil Mr Hugh, before leaving the theatre to face the outside world.

While it was admittedly a little simplistic in its story, I found the film humorous and utterly heart-warming. What struck me, as with all Aardman films, was how realistic the characters were. Although their look is anything but realistic (the classic Aardman design of massive eyes and big toothy grins proves this), their movements and facial expressions were exploding with life. The use of stop-motion animation has always fascinated me, because even though every frame is created over months of work, the action flows incredibly smoothly, with amazing characterisation and heart that seems better than some A-List Hollywood actors.

It got me thinking that the animators here and in other similar studios (Laika springs to mind) have an amazing knack for creating stunningly expressionistic movement. In one shot of Stage Fright, Tiny’s face changes from sorrow, to fear, to joy and then excitement with just the slight movement of an eyebrow. The fantastic work on show throughout the film, and indeed the whole Aardman back-catalogue is a credit to the animators. While voice cast can make or break a character, the animation is what literally gives the film life, and I think the animators behind such hits deserve much more of the limelight for their fantastically realistic work.

7 Stars

If you’re interested in watching Stage Fright, it’s available on the Special Edition of ‘Wallace and Gromit: Curse of The Wererabbit‘.

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