Why We Don't Eat Swans
Birds, Bugs, Bollywood, and Boredom at the Children's Film Festival
What is there to say about the Children's Film Festival that hasn't already been said about a bar of soap with a hair on it? It's okay, it's inevitable, it's better for your kids than being on fire, it won't ruin your day but it's not what you want to see first thing in the morning either. Listen. I don't mind the Children's Film Festival. As I've admitted in print before, I am something of a creepy manchildwoman who actively enjoys media intended for babies (my brain is lazy, and sometimes it just wants to watch a gay German mouse learn to breakdance or whatever, okay??). I also don't have any kids, so I don't know what it feels like to be trapped in an endless purgatory of Dora the Explorer reruns (say it: purgatorio!). If I DID, I would probably pee my pants at the opportunity to watch 10 days of completely new, weird, international children's fare. But I don't. I'm not. Therefore, I was slightly bored. No pants were peed in the creation of this article.
Anyhoozers, here's the rundown of stuff I watched:
THE AZEMICHI ROAD
(Fumie Nishikawa, Japan, 2009)
Yuki is a painfully shy, totally adorable, at least partially deaf girl who just wants to dance! She's got the rhythm in her soul, you guys, even if she can't hear the music. Sniff! When Yuki finally gets up the courage to join a local dance squad (the Jump Girls!), she has to face every dance-movie trope in the dance-movie trope manual: broken ankles, giggly mud fights, distant parents, evil dance bullies who read her diary, and the Big Dance Contest at the end (will she choke!?!?). But who doesn't love dance-movie tropes? Jerks, that's who. This sweet movie is not for jerks. Mon Jan 31 at 7 pm, Sat Feb 5 at 1 pm.
7 DAYS IN SLOW MOTION
(Umakanth Thumrugoti, India, 2009)
What do you do when you're a hilarious, pudgy-faced Indian child who loves movies, but your academics-obsessed mother has allocated (via pie chart) only 2.9 minutes per day for fun? You find a fancy video camera in a bag on the street and get your friends to help you make a film to impress your favorite Bollywood star and prove your mother wrong, of course. (From the kids' pitch meeting: "How about this then? Take the hero from Indecent Proposal, the villain from Terminator, and the story from Titanic. Combine them and we get a brand-new film!") 7 Days in Slow Motion is slow but funny, and manages to sneak in some surprisingly wise moviemaking tips: "No luck with actors either. Why do they act so much? If I paid them less, would they act less?" Sun Jan 30 at 7 pm, Sun Feb 6 at 11:30 am.
JOE CHANG AND FRIENDS
It's probably a good idea to get the children familiar with Chinese culture, seeing as one day soon CHINA WILL OWN US. My favorite entry in this largely wordless Chinese animation showcase (curated by the talented Joe Chang, who will also be teaching an animation master class for adults) is the one where some sort of subterranean hamster (okay, it's a mole, but whatevs) takes up the accordion and uses it to grow a magic happy pumpkin that is immediately converted into affordable housing for slugs. Quick, pretty, weird, cute. Approved. Sat Jan 29 at 3 pm, Sat Feb 5 at 3:30 pm.
THE UGLY DUCKLING
(Garri Bardin, Russia, 2010)
Ahhh, The Ugly Duckling. The age-old fable that's taught generations of kids, "Hey, loser, don't worry if you're totally ugly—you might also be adopted!" This feature-length stop-motion animation jamboree takes the world's most depressing fairy tale and then multiplies it by Russia, which means you might as well go home right now and decapitate your cat with a Razor scooter because that will be better for your mood. Except just kidding, of course—The Ugly Duckling has a totally happy ending! (Spoiler alert: The ugly freak duck grows up into a totally hot swan, and life is finally worth living! Those of you ugly people who have already grown up and remained ugly, uh, um, I guess you're just fucked. And you will never find your real family. Sorry.)
But seriously though, if you can make it through the bizarre chicken cannibalism, creepy lockstepping geese, hardcore emotional abuse ("You are vile, ugly, and dumb!" sing our hero's chicken parents, "You are clumsy and you're scum! You're not like us!"), and strange poultry patriotism ("Prosperous shall be our roost/And dauntless our courageous song/May we live long!"), The Ugly Duckling is actually pretty amazing. It's a technical triumph—the animation is meticulous, lush, and funny—and after the preceding emotional slog, our awkward little ducky's eventual redemption and revenge are irresistible. But seriously, there's a reason why we eat chickens and not swans. It's because CHICKENS DESERVE IT. Those guys are assholes. Sat Jan 29 at 1 pm, Fri Feb 4 at 7 pm, Sun Feb 6 at 1 pm.