Melbourne International Film Festival Review: Woody (Australia, 2013)

Film-makers who operate in the area of short films have the unenviable task of captivating their audience in a very short period of time. There’s no time for the film to find its feet or grow on the audience; it must make its impression quickly and precisely. It is particularly impressive when a short film not only captivates its audience, but does so from the very first frames. The stop motion animated film Woody, written and directed by Stuart Bowen, is that kind of short film.

We all have that one dream or desire that nags us from deep within. It might not be the most easily achievable dream, but that doesn’t stop the longing. Woody has one of those dreams. He has wanted to be a concert pianist since childhood. But there’s only one problem: Woody is a wooden doll who does not have any fingers. The film follows Woody as he spends his time daydreaming about performing in front of packed theatres filled with rapturous applause.

The film won the Grand Jury Prize for Best Animated Short at the Seattle International Film Festival earlier in the year, and it is very easy to see why. Bowen has led a team of world-class animators in order to bring the world of Woody to life, and it definitely shows; the animation is astounding in its subtlety and smoothness. The film is clearly influenced by the films of Tim Burton (his surname even appears on Woody’s piano), which is appropriate given that Burton has been one of the shepherds of stop motion animation in recent years.

The creation of the title character is something of a marvel. Woody never utters a word of dialogue, and his face is essentially featureless. But make no mistake, you will be rooting for this doll from the first time you see him. The way the animators have been able to make Woody emote through subtle head and body movements is seriously impressive. You may find yourself forgetting that you are watching a wooden puppet. Special mention must also go to the hauntingly beautiful score by Josh Abrahams and Russell Thornton.

Any viewer would be hard-pressed to be unmoved by the imagination and innovation on display during Woody. Every aspect of the film, from the animation to the intricate designs of costumes and sets, work together seamlessly to create something truly special. Bowen has presented himself as a serious talent to watch out for with a film that, despite its brief run time, will linger in your mind long after the credits roll.

Review Score: FOUR AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Runtime: 10 Minutes

Woody screened as part of the Melbourne International Film Festival.