You can’t help but wonder if cartoonist cum poet cum philosopher cum just plain brilliant bloke Michael Leunig ever feels that the word “whimsy” and its many variants that seem to haunt him like some sort of haunty thing from the depths of haunty places is an annoyance. For if ever any one person has had a monopoly on that particular adjective, he must be they.
His cartoons have been around basically as long as I have (which is quite long enough, thankyou all the same), and have been the cause of much wonderment, laughter, melancholy, head scratching and utter confusion within that time. I daresay I am not the only person to have been dragged through such a cavalcade of emotions by the man’s work, which is actually a really dumb statement when you consider just how popular his creations are – selling library loads of books, and, of course, making that behemoth-like newspaper The Age worth the effort of struggling to recall forgotten origami tricks learned in primary school in order to get just one more fix.
Until recently his works were pretty much always static, and whilst this left much for us to pinball about our playful imaginations, it did leave a big question unanswered. Just how could anybody bring his gloriously capricious world of big-nosed little philosophers to life and retain the magic?
Well, assemble one producer who moonlights as an actor (or is that the other way ‘round?) named Bryan Brown - a man with an obvious love of Leunig’s work, SBS and some other film-type peoples with money to offer, a narrator in Sam Neill, two respected comedians and actors to give voices to those cute little characters in Julie McGregor and Steve Rodgers and most importantly a team of amazingly visionary creative folks in Freerange Animation, people willing to put in zillions of hours of work with little clay figures and big clay backdrops, and that’s pretty much how it’s done. The choice of claymation to inject the life into these 50 one-minute (or thereabouts) animations could not have been more perfect. Sure you can imagine it all done in 2D watercolour perhaps, or de-souled by being digitised into computers and made all smooth and rendery. But why be limited by such predictability, when in the end a sort of hybrid combination of all could be utilised? Sure it would have taken a hell of a lot more work, however the often breathtaking results – the intricacy and amazing character of the models - speak for themselves. You don’t have to be a genius at all that mathematics stuff to work out that with 25 still shots making up just one second of animation, and with around 45 minutes of finished animation on offer here that that’s one, two, three, four – lots of hours of incredibly arduous work. It was, however, certainly worth it.
Divided into five loose classifications – Melancholy, Playful, Ironic, Bliss and that word we mentioned a way back there, Whimsy, these animations truly capture the magic, the mystery, the vulnerability and variations of all that other groovy stuff Leunig’s creations conjure up in our minds. From the saddest man in the world to weeing on butterflies; knowing the ways of the duck to learning the facts of life from chickens; to the perils of quilt rage and uses for a tired husband, there’s plenty to tickle funny bones of any ethnicity, not to mention tug on the odd heartstring, conjure the odd tear and feed every nook and cranny of those pink, squishy, lumpy things that reside in our noggins.
Some may think it couldn’t be pulled off successfully, however with Leunig himself being dragged kicking and screaming from his quiet country existence to have final approval on what Freerange did whilst babysitting his many fabulous offspring, quality was assured from the start. And believe me, this presentation simply oozes the stuff (quality that is) – with perhaps the only annoyance to break the enchantment being the insertion of credits at the end of each little episode. Still, at least we can turn off the repeated introductions (of which there are only two varieties) if we so desire.
Oh, you want more? Well... if you’ve been lucky enough to fall under the spell of Leunig’s work then this is a wondrous and very special creation worthy of pride of place on that shelf of DVDs you treasure ever so fondly. The care gone into all aspects of the presentation is more obvious than the nose on the face of one of the little blokes (or sheilas!) that inhabit these little gems, and although it isn’t one big cohesive story or the like, as a whole it all makes a certain type of cuddly sense – if you’re a fan you’ll know what I mean...
And remember, sometimes all that you need in life is a darned good duck. QUACK!