Review: Tony, Shelly and the Magic Light
- Filip Pošivač's debut, a stop-motion puppet film that celebrates difference, blends adventure, mystery, emotional depth and social commentary in a family-friendly package
The latest foray into the realm of Czech animated family entertainment comes from the creative mind of debuting director Filip Pošivač. A domestically recognised illustrator and animator, known for his work on the animated series Hunger Bear Tales, Pošivač has now unveiled his first full-length directorial feature, Tony, Shelly and the Magic Light [+see also:
film profile], at the Zlín Film Festival. It is also now screening in the Contrechamp Competition at Annecy. Maintaining the Czech tradition of stop-motion puppet animation, the director and the team of animators weave a compelling story of friendship, diversity and the poignant transition from childhood to adulthood.
The narrative centres on Tony, an 11-year-old boy whose body has been glowing since birth. This anomaly leads him to wear an array of eccentric masks and, more significantly, prompts his parents to be intensely protective and supervise him constantly. He is essentially isolated from the outside world. But as Christmas approaches, Tony's life is upended by the arrival of a mysterious girl named Shelly who moves into their apartment block. Their encounter sparks an adventurous journey that challenges both of them to rethink their views on good and bad, familiarity and difference through the motif of light and darkness.
Like Tony, Shelly is also a loner. Her life on the road with her mother, a professional ballerina, did not afford her any semblance of stability. She possesses an active imagination, subtly indicated by her torchlight’s ability to turn ordinary objects and scenes into vibrant, ornate spectacles. The director and screenwriter Jana Šrámková gently suggest that Shelly might have Asperger's syndrome, while her mother struggles with recurring depression, inadvertently granting Shelly a degree of autonomy. Together, they undertake the task of unravelling the mystery of a malevolent force hidden within their block of flats, a creature that consumes all light and preys on human emotions.
While the narrative primarily revolves around the children's adventure, the influence of the adult world subtly permeates the plot. The characters of the neighbours in the apartment block are depicted in an exaggerated style, like slight caricatures, reminiscent of the aesthetics of Tim Burton and Henry Selick, while a more vibrant colour palette is employed for the protagonists' escapades. The story spans three generations, fostering an unusual alliance between the child and the oldest generation that lies at the core of the mystery surrounding the spirit and the threat it poses.
The animation team has done some intricate design on the puppets, and the smoothness of the stop-motion animation can occasionally be confused with CGI. The artistic direction takes a slightly hyperbolic approach in depicting the gaping hallways, considering the film unfolds predominantly within the apartment block and its underlying cavern, with a handful of courtyard scenes. Slovak cinematographer Denisa Buranová (By a Sharp Knife [+see also:
film profile], Little Harbour [+see also:
interview: Iveta Grófová
film profile]) deftly manoeuvres the camera, exploring the spaces and leveraging diverse angles to enhance the dynamism of the action sequences. Tony, Shelly and the Magic Light, although primarily aimed at a children's audience, is mindful of its family-film identity, balancing slapstick humour with subtle wit and visual puns designed to amuse adults.
The film also addresses a wider social theme, apt for our polarised times, celebrating the unique identities of children and emphasising their self-acceptance. It not only encourages kids to stand up for themselves and be courageous, but also promotes open dialogue with their parents, thus steering clear of turning into an unimaginative and didactic morality lesson for either side.
Tony, Shelly and the Magic Light was produced by Czech outfit nutprodukce and Slovakia’s nutprodukcia, and co-produced by Czech Television, Radio and Television Slovakia, Kouzelná animace and Hungary’s Filmfabriq. LevelK handles the international sales.
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