As the floating pyramid informs us, when Milk Paton (Schmark Paton), a milk carton living in the dangerous city of Glazgo, moves to the Countryside to attend school, he is forced to make new friends. Robert (Robert Cameron) seems like a good guy, but he’s the sidekick to the prickish Mark (Stephen Mould), who is worried that Milk is making the moves on his girlfriend Carmen (Michelle Ann Dunphy). Things are only made worse when Milk’s nasty habit of pirating mp3s from the internet runs him afoul of the law (a penalty punishable by death). Did I mention the dangerous prehistoric arrows yet?
John Andrew Cameron’s short film anthology, Milk Paton: The Motion Picture(s), is difficult to describe, clearly. It’s really three animated shorts put together in one feature, but it actually works because character growth, while sometimes miniscule, does work to tie it all together. The animation is unique too, utilizing still photos as its base and characters; the way the elements are layered in the frame gives the illusion of live-action, only they’re stills.
It’s like when South Park uses photos to animate the heads of Mel Gibson or Saddam Hussein, only far more subtle than Matt and Trey’s creations, and encompassing the entire frame. The mouths don’t change around so much as barely budge, and action in the scene is often a strange shimmy of little nothings. It’s awkward and intriguing.
This unique animation style is surrounded by other, more traditional, animations, such as the narrating pyramid (I think he referred to himself as the “geometric storyteller”), the prehistoric arrows and the female love interest, who happens to be a two-dimensional anime character rendering. This mix, coupled with the absurdity of the narrative (which, like the still photo animation, is strangely calm for its nonsense), makes for one peculiar experience.
On the technical side of things, the animation is so smooth in bringing the photos to life, it makes you wonder how they were able to cleanly separate the layers so well. The photos themselves are great looking, no doubt a big part of getting the smooth effects was working with an exceptional base of stills. The only technical aspect I wasn’t fond of was this element of the score that seemed to think the sound of a cuckoo clock was something fun to play repeatedly. I was not a fan; even low in the mix, my ears tuned right into that one.
Your enjoyment of this one will come down to how long the tone and animation stays charming for you, if it does at all. The narrative is episodic, which makes sense since this is three shorts put together for a longer film, and the overall arc works more like how one would in a webseries than in a feature film (with the pyramid stringing them together). Another way to look at it would be like an episode of many a cartoon show, in how it is constructed with smaller animated segments, credits and all, stuck together to form a whole.
And again, I think you’ll either dig the vibe, or you won’t. If you don’t, there’s nothing in this that’ll win you over as it goes along. The main characters have their roles (our hero Milk, loyal and bearded Robert and a*****e Mark), and they pretty much stick to their mold. If you’re into it, it’s fun from start to finish.
I was in to it. I liked the main concept of the animation style quite a bit (it got my creative mind spinning about how it could be used to make, or enhance, epic shorts or features), and the humor, while often dry and subtle, worked for me. Then again, it could all come down to the fact that this is one of the few films that properly respects the majestic Beard Law.
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