A mostly pleasant surprise in a year that has produced a lack of stellar animated outings.
I admit “Strange Beasts” had me fooled at first. Maybe writing that is robbing you of the same experience I had with it, but the experience of being fooled is part of what makes the film work. Tricking the audience, though, is not the reason for its existence. “Strange Beasts” has a lot to say and it does so in a very clever, mischievous way that—and I realize I say this a lot about these shorts—I wish it were longer.
The film starts out as a convincing infomercial on a computer product that creates virtual creatures as pets. We watch a demonstrator tap on some graphics that appear to be floating on his desk. He pushes some buttons and a small cat-sized beast appears on his table that he can play with. He can throw virtual balls around the house for the creature to fetch and even take it out for a walk. How far can this concept go? The second half of the film explores the idea even further until it reaches its dark conclusion.
Director Magali Barbé, who is a visual effects designer for blockbusters (“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” being just one), has a lot of fun with the infomercial aspect of her film and knows exactly when to reveal the absurdity of her concept. By the end, she makes the case that perhaps this idea is not absurd, but perilously close to our current reality. It’s just the means to accomplish having a strange beast in your house that is the weird part that would make most people take pause.
By now, we have all gotten used to seeing people walking down the streets, eyes forward, having one-sided conversations. I still find myself looking for the earpieces on these people, just in case. We’re getting very close to where “Strange Beasts” is coming from and if one were to show someone the first couple minutes of this film, there is no question the viewer would think to themselves “I want that.” I happen to own one of those Star Wars BB-8 Sheero toys. It’s a cool little gizmo and has a fun personality. Yet when it sits on its charger, every once in a while its head will turn, completely unmotivated. Cute, but also creepy. A strange beast indeed.
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