Tuesday, March 20, 2012

NYICFF ’12: The Gruffalo’s Child (short)

This bogeyman has become an Academy Award nominated Christmas tradition. Like its predecessor, The Gruffalo’s Child (trailer here) debuted as a BBC Christmas Day special. Whether it also finds a place on the Oscar ballot remains to be seen, but Johannes Weiland and Uwe Heidschotter’s adaptation of Julia Donaldson’s children’s book should have a well established fan base for its screenings during the 2012 New York International Children’s Film Festival.

As Mother Squirrel told her little ones in the previous film, the Gruffalo was an ogre-like monster a wily mouse thought he was inventing to scare away his predators, yet it turned out to be quite real. Even a bogeyman needs a bogeyman, so the Gruffalo tells his daughter stories of the “big bad mouse” to keep her safely in the cave during the night. However, being a chip off the old block, she resolves to track down the supposed dread beast one dark and snowy eve. Eventually, she comes across the same sly mouse, who must do a spot of quick thinking to avoid becoming her midnight snack.

Gruffalo’s Child is very cute, with a brains-over-brawn message most parents will appreciate. It also looks like the animators have stepped up their game in the new installment, impressively rendering the sensation of motion and textures, while maintaining their focus on the young Gruffalo’s childlike expressions.

Adults should also be amused by the big name vocal talents, including Helena Bonham Carter, John Hurt, Tom Wilkinson, and Rob Brydon, who sadly never lets loose a Michael Caine impression as the sinister snake. However, jaded viewers will wonder just how the Gruffalo came to be a single parent (an amicable divorce or did Mrs. Gruffalo disappear under mysterious circumstances?). For those of us steeped in genre films, the young Gruffalo’s stick figure doll will also summon Blair Witch images that really have no place here.

Be that as it may, The Gruffalo’s Child is sweet and charming. At nearly half an hour’s running time, it is the central dominant selection of the Shorts for Tots program. Recommended without reservation for family viewing, The Gruffalo’s Child and the rest of the tots shorts screen again this Saturday (3/24) at the Scholastic Theater, as the 2012 NYICFF enters its final weekend at venues across the City.