Charlie (Xander Hewitt) is a young adult dealing with many of the problems young adults face, though his tactic has been to ignore the world around him and internalize. One day while out walking, he finds himself in a cardboard tunnel with a cut-out door. Upon opening the door, he enters a new world of cardboard-infused wilderness. Waiting for him is his guide to the strange environment, the chatty and exuberant Dishers (Craig Cowdroy), who is determined to help Charlie recognize, accept and address his various problems in a more positive way.
David Bond’s short film, The Mind’s Wood, reminds me of the type of film I’d watch in high school health class, a well-intentioned project hoping to help young adults deal with their thoughts and emotions in a positive and productive way; the type of film with its heart firmly on its sleeve. It’s also the type of film you sit in the back of class and mock mercilessly.
Which is to say that while elements are interesting, particularly the cardboard-universe design aesthetic, the actual execution comes off as silly in some ways and far too earnest for its own good in others. The folks who have the most to learn from a story like this won’t be all that interested in the over-the-top Dishers, or find the allure of the cardboard forest engaging enough for twenty plus minutes. It’s aiming for whimsical and wacky, but it often feels like it’s meandering in its own wilderness, not quite getting on with its story quick enough.
The positives, however, are that it looks quite good. The usage of cardboard, stop-motion animation and the like to build this odd, inner world is definitely the highlight of the entire piece. It’s unique and inventive, giving the feel of an unpolished and wild mental world that is, nevertheless, still recognizable. And if this were maybe five to ten minutes of such ideas and imagery mixed with a driving force way less hokey, I think you’d have something solid here.
While it’s strange to say it, one of the biggest issues I have with the film is that it doesn’t feel cinematic enough. Once the cardboard art direction comes into play, and things go preposterously Dishers to an unenjoyable degree, it feels like you’re watching a stage play unfold, and not a very interesting one. Again, it feels too earnest, with its whimsy too forced, to take. Coupled with its running time, it’s too much of something that isn’t quite working.
Overall, I do think The Mind’s Wood has its heart in the right place, and its intentions of delivering a positive message are to be given a proper nod, but I think it is undone by its execution. Again, those who can learn the most from a message like this will be the first to mock it, in far more insulting terms than I have criticized. It’s an Afterschool Special at best, which unfortunately isn’t saying much.
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