Thursday, May 9, 2024

SIFF 2024 Dispatch #2: The Primevals and Tony, Shelly, and the Magic Light

(David Allen, USA, 2023, 90 minutes) 

Because David Allen's The Primevals wasn't completed until last year--24 years after his death--it's classified as a new film. It definitely does not look like one. Though principal photography dates back to 1994, the animation work began in 1978, and the stop-motion effects are no more sophisticated than those of the Rankin/Bass productions of yore (Allen is best known for his effects work on Joe Dante's The Howling and Ron Howard's Willow). If anything, the yeti recalls the great ape in Merian C. Cooper's original 1933 King Kong--the same film that encouraged Allen to go into filmmaking.

After scientists acquire the body of the yeti, who was buried in an avalanche, they set out, along with an impetuous Sherpa and macho tracker Rondo Montana, to find out why this specimen lived such a violent life. Except for Juliet Mills, who brings her well-trained professionalism to the role of the senior scientist, the acting is middling at best, and things never get as wild and wiggy as in 1981's similarly-constructed Clash of the Titans, which featured the final work of animation legend Ray Harryhausen. That said, the lizard-like aliens are fun in a demented Sid and Marty Krofft kind of way. 

Though it's always nice to see that stop-motion hasn't been completely abandoned as an animation technique, and though it's heartening that Allen's associates and crowd-funding fans saw the film to completion, The Primevals plays more like a basic cable movie than a full-fledged motion picture. On the plus side, it's suitable for the whole adventure-loving family, and it's sure to provide more entertainment value in a grand old theater during a film festival than on a computer screen in my apartment. 


The Primevals plays the Egyptian on Fri, May 10, at 11:59pm and on Tues, May 14, at 9:30pm. Click here for more information. 

Tonda, Slávka a Kouzelné Světl 
(Filip Pošivač, Czech-Slovak-Hungarian, 2023, 82 minutes) 

I'm the man with the light bulb head 
I turn myself on in the dark 
I'm the man with the light bulb head 
I turn myself on for a lark. 

--Robyn Hitchcock (1985) 

Unlike The Primevals, this Eastern European production dispenses with pesky humans--who needs 'em--for an all-stop-motion affair. The story center on 11-year-old Tony, who frequently wears a mask, because he doesn't look like other kids. His parents have also attached him to a tether, much like a dog on a leash, so he isn't able to wander far from their apartment. 

When the outspoken, bespectacled Shelly and her gloomy mother Sylvia, a retired actress, move in to their building, Tony finds himself enchanted by Shelly's magic flashlight, which brings her fantastical imaginings--from jungles to dinosaurs--to colorful life. The thing is: only he can see them. 

After bratty neighbor Ernestine inadvertently unmasks Tony, Shelly finds herself equally enchanted by his glowing head. In fact, he's thoroughly incandescent. When he rescues her pet bird Fanny, she dubs him "Glowing Super-Tony." Though it's great to have a friend--possibly his very first--Tony remains firmly attached to the tether, and even when he's around, his overprotective parents spend more time doting on their non-glowing toddler twins. Tony just wants to be free, like Ernestine, Shelly and Fanny. 

In addition to their parents, the duo's other antagonists include Ernestine's purple-clad mother, Miss Tubby, and the building's evil spirit, a big, black, caterpillar-like creature made up of tiny fuzzballs. When the neighbors argue, a common occurrence, the fuzzballs materialize and multiply like Tribbles before forming one all-consuming blob. Only the aging and creaky caretaker is able to keep it under control.

Though Tony, Shelly, and the Magic Light includes plenty of unique details, the ending may remind older viewers of Harry Nilsson's animated film The Point!--this is not a bad thing--and though extremely kid-friendly, it features English subtitles rather than dubbing, so parents should be advised. Fortunately, the animation is intricate and imaginative enough to keep most pre-readers engaged, and even if it isn't targeted at my age group, I find it hard to resist sympathetic stories about neglected and misunderstood misfits who find other creative square pegs to ease their loneliness.


Tony, Shelly, and the Magic Light plays the Egyptian on Fri, May 10, at 4:15pm, and at SIFF Downtown on Sun, May 19, at 1pm. Click here for more information. Images from Fantasia 2023 (Juliet Mills, Richard Joseph Paul, and Leon Russum), YouTube (Tony and Shelly), and Nutprodukcia (Miss Tubby and Ernestine, Sylvia, Tony's mother, and the caretaker). 

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