Directed by: #BenjaminJDevlin
Stop-motion animation is notoriously hard to pull off. It takes hours of moving each hand, arm and face by a barely noticeable fraction, taking a photo of each movement and slowly sewing together the photos to give the illusion of a moving image. Chicken Run was not filmed in a day. However, while Benjamin J. Devlin’s short Bob: The Return is technically admirable, it falls short in all other counts.
Our main character is Bob, a little red bear whose defining characteristic is his marriage to a little pink bear named Beatrix. The camera breaks the fourth wall and simulates a documentary-style film where the unseen interviewer asks Bob about his life. Bob is no longer lonely like in Bob: The Pilot. Bob’s life seems to have improved, he is expecting a child with Beatrix, and his house seems nice. The tranquil nature of Bob’s new life in suburbia is interrupted by Bob suddenly falling ill, snot falling from his nose as he falls around and defecates himself.
Narratively, Bob: The Return is not compelling. Why would the viewer warm to Bob, whose purpose in the film is just to suddenly fall ill? We have no real reason to feel sorry for Bob or demand that Bob find some adequate bear-suitable healthcare immediately. Beatrix is nothing more than a pregnant pink bear modelled out of plasticine. What has Bob done to require being interviewed? As bears go, the rather hum-drum Pooh bear is far more compelling.
Anyone who has dabbled with stop-motion animation knows how difficult and frustrating lining up each shot can be. Your dreams of working with Aardman might be shattered due to your impatience and knowledge that a whole day’s work might only yield a few seconds. Yet, the animation in Bob: The Return is particularly good – especially when noting the progress made from Bob: The Pilot. Bob’s facial features twitch, and he seamlessly moves his arms and legs. You may be aware that you’re watching plasticine, but Bob never seems static.
Unfortunately, despite the smooth animation, the film is hampered by many shortcomings, such as the overuse of pointless intertitles asking needless questions like how Bob is, and so forth. When sound wasn’t a movie given, intertitles were used sparsely, yet through musical cues, facial expressions and dramatic acting, the audience knew exactly what was going on. Perhaps Devlin has limited himself by utilising an interview-style film which necessitates a lot of filler dialogue. The white text layered over a plain black background does nothing but interrupt whatever little tension and pace were previously geared up.
While it’s a great demonstration of animation skill, no one wants to be a fly on the wall at Bob’s place. While the stop-motion may be cute, the plot whirrs to a standstill without gaining any momentum.