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Scarygirl (2023): Film Review

Ricard Cussó and Tania Vincent’s family animation Scarygirl is reminiscent of Pixar Studios movies, in that it is designed to both entertain and carry a message for youngsters. 

In 2001, Nathan Jurevicius published a graphic novel called ‘ScaryGirl,’ which he further extended with a range of toys, and a video game. Now, his work has been adapted into a family animation where the titular Scarygirl, also known as Arkie (Jillian Nguyen) goes on a perilous journey to save her Octopus father, Blister (Rob Collins), and finds a truth about who she really is which was hidden from her.

Ricard Cussó and Tania Vincent’s family animation Scarygirl is reminiscent of Pixar Studios output, in that it is designed to both entertain and carry a message for youngsters. Concerns about the environment, technology, the importance of family, what it means to be true to yourself, and the rights of creatures great and small over profit are embedded into the brightly coloured piece. The themes are clear, but the execution is clumsy.

Arkie lives on a peninsula with her dad Blister. Blister is an octopus with healing and regenerative powers. Blister has been trying to teach Arkie how to use her tentacle to grow and protect their island paradise. Thus far, her efforts have not been successful, and instead she is trying to build machines that can help Blister with his work. Blister has a terror of technology and distrusts science. He’s nonetheless a very supportive and patient parent who nurtures all around him. “There’s always something you can do to make the world better,” he tells Arkie after she has made a mistake. Arkie’s mantra is “Nothing to it, but to do it,” which will serve her well as the adventure gets underway.

Miles away in The City of Light, in shadowy casinos and bars, the denizens of the planet look up at the dome containing the city’s most powerful man: Doctor Maybee (Sam Neill), a human geneticist and scientist who arrived on the planet years earlier. Through his associate The Keeper (Anna Torv), he runs a trade in specific animals that may have regenerative powers. Maybee’s prize catch is an Octopus, generally thought extinct. Arkie’s mistake, which sent off a loud signal to the city, leads a group of bounty hunters headed by Chihoohoo (Tim Minchin) to the peninsula in search of Blister. Coming along for the ride, although not through choice, but rather necessity, is broke gambler Bunniguru (Remy Hii) and his best friend and co-pilot Egg (Kate Murphy).

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Scarygirl (Madman Films)

Blister is kidnapped by Chihoohoo and his associates River Bandit (Mark Coles Smith) and Rebel King (Dylan Alcott) and taken in a steampunk styled ship to Doctor Maybee. Separated from Chihoohoo, Bunniguru and Egg find a very remorseful and self-blaming Arkie. Together, they must make their way to the city through tunnels and forests to find and rescue Blister.

Doctor Maybee’s experiments have been draining the sun to power them. He is using the citizens of the city to rewrite their genetic code and give them “advantages.” His true purpose is to find the code that can bring back his since deceased daughter. In Doctor Frankenstein style, he is a mad scientist who toys with all creation for his own ends. Once he has imprisoned Blister it won’t be long until his machines drain the octopus of his life.

Scarygirl is very much an extension of Jurevicius’ specific visual style. The creatures on his planet and the planet itself are vaguely kawaii creations with a steampunk edge. Some are deliberately cute, others a little disconcerting. Bunniguru is a rabbit of sorts, Bug Eye (voiced by Live Hewson) is a two-headed creature that longs to be separated from themselves. Scarygirl looks terrific. Where it falls down is its derivative script, penned by Craig Behenna and Matt Everitt. Bunniguru is a gentleman grifter with a conscience (mostly provided by Egg). Arkie is a spunky heroine who learns to accept herself as she is. Maybee is pure menace and scientific hubris. The only character who manages to go beyond a stereotype is Ana Torv’s Keeper.

It is a positive that Australia is reaching into the world of larger scale animations using local talent. However, the story does feel cobbled together in a manner that attempts to showcase Jurevicius’ popular designs and deliver a complete narrative – and it doesn’t manage to do both with as much skill as is necessary. Scarygirl is entertaining overall but lacks a certain zest to distinguish itself from other family centric children’s animated features. Positive messaging aside, Scarygirl is competent but slight.

Scarygirl was released in Australian cinemas on October 26, 2023.

Scarygirl: Trailer (Madman Films)
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