Saturday, April 13, 2013

Aspen Shortsfest ’13: Room on the Broom

Evidently, some animals think it’s a good gig to be a witch’s familiar.  One hospitable witch already has the requisite feline, but they will pick up considerable company in Room on the Broom (promo here), Max Lang & Jan Lachauer’s animated adaptation of the Julia Donaldson children’s book, which screens tomorrow at the 2013 Aspen Shortsfest.

Donaldson shorts have become a Christmas tradition for the BBC, even netting them an Oscar nomination for The Gruffalo.  Featuring big name voice talent and high quality animation, they have also become popular selections on the American festival circuit.  They are a bit formulaic, which is hardly surprising, considering they are produced for youngsters.  Like the Gruffalo films, Broom’s story involves furry animals using their wits to fool an exotic monster in the woods.  Indeed, these are brains-over-brawn lessons that parents should readily approve.

Initially, it is nothing but blue skies in Broom.  However, the spectacle of the witch and her cat swooshing through the air is quite appealing to the creatures they encounter.  Each one asks if there is room for them to hitch along.  Every time the cat says no (they are anti-social beasts), but the witch says yes.  As the party grows they attract the attention of a dragon skulking out of sight.

Gillian Anderson sort of lends her voice to the witch, but she laughs, sighs, and exclaims more than she talks, per se.  Rob Brydon returns for another Donaldson, bringing out the cat’s cattiness with uncharacteristic reserve.  Despite big names like Timothy Spall as the dragon and Simon Pegg handling narration, Broom is more visually driven, completely forgoing the Shrek-style hip wise-cracking for grown-ups.  It is also considerably more endearing for the same reason.

Just so there is no confusion, Broom was a twenty-six minute Christmas special, but not a Christmas story.  With nothing tying it to a specific season, it can be enjoyed at any time.  Recommended without reservation for young viewers and fans of gentler, more wholesome animation, Room on the Broom screens tomorrow (4/14) as part of Program Eleven: Family Fun at Aspen Shortsfest ’13.