A Year in Shorts Day 158: "Feral"
Those of you trying to catch up with this year’s Oscar nominees will probably have seen Wolfwalkers, the newest feature from Irish animation studio Cartoon Saloon. While it wasn’t a big hit, it was undeniably one of the most well-received films from the past year, and it’s not hard to see why. As in all their films, Cartoon Saloon’s wholly unique hand drawn style sets them apart from the crowd as a studio worth watching. But there was a complaint regarding the film which I couldn’t help agree with- the film’s soundscape was very frustrating. While the music was great, the overall sound design was a bit off, and the seemingly nonstop dialogue could get grating. Many scenes certainly left me wishing the characters would slow down and enjoy the silence. Well apparently I got my wish all the way back in 2012 with Daniel Sousa’s Oscar-nominated short Feral.
Told entirely without dialogue, Feral is the story of a wild child discovered in the woods by a huntsman and taken into civilization. As you can imagine, the boy is a bit of a misfit, which in some shorts might serve as the starting point for comic hijinks. But this isn't that kind of film, and any hijinks that ensue have dramatic consequences. Telling any story without words is always tricky, but Sousa displays a clear gift for visual storytelling which helps make the whole thing engaging. There's a simplicity to his character designs (everyone is rendered more or less as a silhouette) which renders everything to a mythic quality, and his use of negative space produces some especially memorable images. That, combined with crisp sound design and a haunting score by co-producer Dan Golden, makes for a film which sticks with you long after you're done watching it.
It was a bit tricky to find information on Feral (it's not a super obscure short, but it's not particularly well known either), but I did find a very nice interview the the director here at the Animation World Network. It's well worth a read, especially in regards to the short's animation style as well as Sousa's general philosophy towards storytelling. Especially intriguing was his comment on how he got into animation out of a desire to bring paintings to life; I think we can all agree that he accomplished his goal with this film. Despite all the technological wizardry that went into to giving the film its design, Feral still manages to retain the soul of the best hand-drawn animation. For some reason what this film's aesthetic most reminds me of is Joann Sfar and Emmanuel Gilbert's graphic novel The Professor's Daughter, which I'm almost certain absolutely none of you have read. Still, you should definitely check it out, and I certainly know who has my vote for director if they ever make a film adaptation.
Is Feral a perfect short? No, but it's a very good one. Even at only thirteen minutes the film does feel slightly padded, and there are some moments of symbolism which are so on the nose they border on comical. But subtlety is often overrated, and if there's ever a place for a bit of obviousness, it's in a short like this. And while it may not make for a particularly interesting blog post, it remains an absolutely compelling film.
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