Animation is one of the genres that truly allows a movie maker’s imagination to run riot. That has been evident since the early Disney classics like Fantasia and Dumbo, but filmmakers have been experimenting with the medium since then and presenting us with some absolute gems, from the multi-award winning Wolfwalkers to the thematically rich Your Name., to Pixar’s highly praised Soul and many more movies.It is also a genre that Australia’s independent filmmakers have been quick to embrace. It’s when left to their own devices that Aussie studios tend to go all in and dial up the quirky factor to 100. Here are 5 quirky Australian animated films, listed in order of release!
1. Dot and the Kangaroo
Take a pinch of Black Beauty, a spoonful of Watership Down, add some freshly chopped Bambi and you have the culinary equivalent of Dot and the Kangaroo. Dot (Barbara Frawley) is a little girl who gets lost in the Australian wilderness, and Kangaroo (Joan Bruce) is the maternal animal who accompanies her on her adventures. It’s best to leave it at that, so you can discover our titular characters’ journey on your own while immersing yourself in 80s nostalgia. But if you’ve never seen it before, Dot and the Kangaroo will surprise you with its themes, as it’s ultimately a film about loss.
2. Grendel Grendel Grendel
People have tried numerous different ways to translate Anglo-Saxon poem “Beowulf” to the big screen, telling the story of a very strong hero who helps the king of the Danes defeat a monster named Grendel and eventually becomes a King himself. You might be more familiar with the 2007 movie, starring Anthony Hopkins and Ray Winstone, but the downside to most of these adaptations is that they stray from the original story in an attempt to humanize Grendel and explain his motivations.
In Grendel, Grendel, Grendel, director Alexander Stitt tells the story from the monster’s perspective, but the stroke of genius is in Grendel (Peter Ustinov) questioning his motives and coming to understand, through an encounter with the dragon (Arthur Dignam), that his sole purpose is simply to terrify humanity. Grendel Grendel Grendel has some storytelling flaws, but it sticks to the source material, and the quirkiness comes from the fact that it’s narrated in a Monty Pythonesque way by the creature himself.
3. Mary and Max
This stop motion comedy drama is, simply put, gorgeous. Written and directed by independent film maker and Claymation artist Adam Elliot, it is the most successful of his six movies to date, and it’s also a movie that is absolutely not for children, as it tackles some very heavy themes. It mainly revolves around a lonely little girl named Mary (Toni Collette) who lives in Melbourne and has no friends. One day, she decides to take matters into her own hands, finds a phone book, and writes a letter to a random person in New York. That person turns out to be a similarly lonely, obese middle-aged man named Max (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who also happens to have Asperger’s syndrome.
Mary and Max is ultimately a film about friendship – the kind of friendship that defies boundaries set by age, location, and lifestyle – but, as you can imagine, it’s also quite a depressing watch. Our titular characters are less lonely because they have each other, but they aren’t always good for one another, due to their influence on each other’s lives. There are a couple of upbeat scenes, like one where they win big on the lottery, which will definitely resonate with viewers who play online keno in Australia and like to contemplate what they would do with a big win. But most of the film is a poignant meditation on humanity and kinship, led by a superb Philip Seymour Hoffman and enhanced by Gerald Thompson’s stunning cinematography.
Here’s another quirky stop motion film whose main strength resides in its visuals, but fans of movies like Wallace & Gromitt will find plenty of charm in this 2009 picture. $9.99 is also not a film for children, as it ponders life’s big questions. The movie revolves 12 people who live in a building in Sydney, and examines their dreams, fears and interactions as they look for meaning in their lives.
Think Mike Leigh’s Naked without the adult parts, and you are not far from it. The voice actors include Minions narrator Geoffrey Rush and Anthony LaPaglia, who played Simon Moon in Frasier.
5. 100% Wolf
Director Alexs Stadermann brings us a film about werewolves that’s really a coming of age story about the changes that occur as we grow up and the fears of finding yourself on your own for the first time, having to discover who you are. The movie revolves around a young werewolf named Freddy Lupin (Ilai Swindells) whose first transformation, on his 13th birthday, doesn’t exactly go according to plan, as he transforms into a poodle instead.
Needless to say, he soon finds himself without a pack, completely on his own, and eventually having to escape a dog pound with the help of a new friend named Batty (Samara Weaving). And as if that wasn’t complicated enough, he also has a limited time to do that, as he also needs to prove that he’s the titular “100% wolf” before the next moonrise.
If 100% Wolf isn’t revolutionary when it comes to its visuals, it’s its themes that make it absolutely worth the watch, as this is ultimately a film about identity and growing up, perfect to watch with the whole family.
The 5 quirky Australian animated films listed above are bound to entertain you and make you think, and there’s something for everyone in our list. Happy watching!