At a time when animation has become increasingly digitised, franchised and gimmicky, it’s a relief to find the old-fashioned techniques still being used. While they certainly aren’t as time-efficient, the clear and original marks of artistry are there for all to recognise as opposed to the smooth artificial sheen we’ve become used to.
In this instance, Jean Christophe Dessaint directs The Day of the Crows, based on a 2005 novel by Canadian author Jean-Francois Beauchemin and adapted to screen by Amandine Taffin. The story follows an ogre known as ‘Pumpkin’ (voiced by Jean Reno), who lives deep in the woods with his scrawny wild-child son (Lorànt Deutsch). On self-imposed exile from the world, the domineering Pumpkin has convinced his son that if he were to venture beyond the forest boundary, he would simply disappear. This is a story which has kept this graceless child from any human contact since birth.
However, naturally the son is curious to know what lies beyond and when Pumpkin is badly injured in a thunder storm, the need to find out is stronger than ever. In a nearby town, he meets a kind doctor (Claude Chabrol) willing to help, whose young daughter, Manon (Isabelle Carre), is tasked with showing him the ways of the world. However, Pumpkin’s past is only a step behind.
There are shades of Shrek in the gruff ogre, Pumpkin, and the wild son looks like a cross between Gollum from The Lord of the Rings and Tommy Pickles from Rugrats. Together they are outcasts from society, something akin to the plot of Nell. Dessaint’s Miyazaki-like style of animation has a raw natural charm to it, allowing for a tone that is at times playful but also capable of exploring darker themes, such as childhood abuse and the afterlife, with a delicacy not often seen in digital animation.
All this plays out amongst the earthy seasonal colours of backgrounds painted in the style of 19th century French landscapes. Particularly in the forest scenes, it is easy to become lost in the lush scenery.
The little guy’s implausible romance with Manon has its moments, including some pretty standard jokes regarding his unfamiliarity with customs and standards. However, this doesn’t set out to be a comedy and will most likely appeal to a more mature audience, given the weighty overriding themes. While some of it may seem cobbled and familiar, the grounded approach is admirable, the conclusion is fittingly sweet and the artistry alone is worth going for.
The Day of the Crows is screening as part of the 2013 Melbourne International Film Festival.