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Short Films in Focus: "The 12 Days of Christmas: A Tale of Avian Misery"

“The 12 Days of Christmas” has always been one of the more absurd of all Christmas carols and yet people sing it as if this form of gift giving has always been a regular occurrence. Imagine if someone’s true love actually did track down all these cows and birds and fashion them as presents, without once giving thought to the logistics of having to care for them in a suitable environment. That’s the approach Craig Ainsley and Ben White take with their very funny animated short “The 12 Days of Christmas: A Tale of Avian Misery.”

The film continues a trend that is normally associated with documentary shorts, that of the narrator reflecting on a past experience and the animators giving a visual interpretation, except that, obviously, this is fiction. Giving the piece a nice anchor is Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who narrates it with great down-to-earth charm as someone who has just experienced the worst relationship ever and is now only beginning to see the humor in it. With every maid-a-milking or geese-a-laying that shows up at her doorstep, Waller-Bridge brings just the right amount of alarm and horror while also laughing at the absurdity of it all. The authorities are of no help. Amnesty International ignore her. She is stuck with these constantly pooping feathered friends for good. 

The animation here is simple and devoid of obvious Christmas imagery. Instead of going for the obvious reds and greens, the animators here keep things neutral, giving a nice, icy blue texture to the piece that makes the story all the more horrifying. Imagine having to deal with leaping Lords a pond full of geese in the dead of winter. 

So, where does the song come from? I looked up the origins and found a comprehensive explanation on Snopes, the leading authority on all contemporary and historical myths and legends. In the end, the tune is just a collection of catchy turns of phrase that make for a maddening carol that works more as a memory test than a jingle. I’ll always prefer Bob and Doug McKenzie’s version, but this short film provides a nice visual for anyone who ever has to hear this song during the holiday season. 

How did this idea come about?

The idea came from thinking about that song. It was Christmas and it was playing on TV and I was like 'that guy sounds like a lunatic.' I wrote it into a short story first. Then, next Christmas, we had the idea of animating it for the Anomaly Christmas project. Anomaly does one every year.

Were there any primary influences with regards to the animation?

Primarily we chose animation because it would be impossible to shoot that amount of animals. Cows climbing stairs. Hens everywhere. It’d be a nightmare. In the story we treat the song seriously. What would happen if you gave someone all those gifts in real life? So we wanted the illustration to have a sophistication to it, not too big and cartoon-y. The first image I shared with our illustrator, Rob Hunter, was a still from the street scene in the original “101 Dalmatians.” Though there’s a cacophony of animals and feces and craziness, we wanted it to look beautiful.  

How did the casting of Phoebe Waller-Bridge come about?

We’d seen “Fleabag” and thought she was great. That show was one of the best of last year. The final episode punched me right in the face. And, weirdly, when I read back over the “12 Days” script, it sounded like her. Some how. So we sent it to her and she liked it. She came in a read it and it was a perfect fit. I suppose we had that tone—a young woman living in the city, calling bullshit when she sees it. Phoebe does that very well.

Tell me a little about Anomaly. It's an advertising agency, correct? How does a company like that decide to do a short film?

Anomaly is an advertising agency that can also produce and direct its own content. It also invents its own products. So I don’t really know how to define it. The short film came about mainly because of Anomaly London’s Executive Creative Director, Oli Beale. The man is a true visionary idiot who will sometimes insist on the agency making something for the sheer fun of it.

What's next for you?

"Avian Misery" was my second short. I’m in production on two new ones. One live-action, and the other is actually the new Anomaly Christmas film for 2017. Another animated film, called “Dear Satan.”

The 12 Days of Christmas - A Tale of Avian Misery from Blink on Vimeo.

Collin Souter

Collin Souter has been reviewing films in Chicago for 14 years, most notably on WGN Radio where he has been a part of the movie review segment every week on The Nick Digilio Show.

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