There’s an unmatchable craft behind every stop-motion production. Frame by frame, animators toil with different fabrics, armatures, lighting fixtures, and frame rates to create their own laboratory of animated life. It’s a process akin to resurrection of sorts, by literally bringing an inanimate form beyond the grave through the power of the moving image. The tactility of the objects in frame are what ultimately sell the pastiche, where the hand-made craft presents a warm & welcoming atmosphere for the viewer. Even with the more demented stop-frame works from auteurs such as Jan Švankmajer & The Quay Brothers, the aesthetic of the work is what ultimately sells the intended effect. There’s nothing quite like stop-motion and its infinitely fascinating hand-crafted artistry. Taking years upon years of pure dedication and patience, there tends to also be a reason why we don’t often find new stop motion productions every coming year. But sometimes, it’s important to look outside of the typical anglo-centric sphere, and look into productions from other countries.
For example, take Even Mice Belong to Heaven, a film that is now classified as one of the biggest stop-motion productions in Czechoslovakian history. For good reason too since, according to Zippy Frames, the extensive work behind the film resulted in the craft of over 100 puppet characters, 11 sets, and 7 unique stop motion production areas around Europe in order to complete the film. A passion project adapted from a beloved children’s book, the film utilises fuzzy fabrics and other anthropomorphic materials to bring life to a set of endearing archetypal characters.
As far as it concerns, the film doesn’t offer anything particularly new in its narrative developments. Yet, for a children’s film that tackles the existentialism of death and limbo, there’s a shocking amount of poignancy in its slight discussions on mortality and societal roles. Dumbed down to a certain degree? Most definitely, but at the very least the screenwriters were bold enough to tackle these tough subjects with varying degrees of success. Where it lacks in its appeal towards older viewers, there’s still a bit of memorability and even enjoyment to be had for a film that is predominantly aimed at preschool viewers.
Perhaps that’s the true testament to universal storytelling. An engaging film that is lovingly crafted by a crew of dedicated storytellers will always stand better on its own two feet in contrast with a film in which its specific end goal is to target a specific demographic. Even Mice Belong to Heaven is one of the few commercial children’s films in recent memory in which its existence is not dependent on financial success or even monetary gain, but is rather dedicated towards its contributions to the development of new stop-motion techniques and handcrafted artistry. That’s the big takeaway here, where a film all about a scared little mouse exploring the depths of mortality is arguably just as poignant and relevant to the progression of contemporary cinema, in contrast with other adult festival fare.