Directed by: Oliver Simonsen
Written by: Oliver Simonsen, Dave Sim (based on comics by)
Starring: John Di Crosta, Yuell Newsome, Stephen Mendel
Film Review by: Darren Tilby
Making a film on a small budget is never easy. Still, the difficulty is increased exponentially when it comes to animation. Animation is incredibly labour intensive and expensive to produce, with many bigger animated movies costing more than $50 million to produce. The Absurd, Surreal, Metaphysical and Fractured Destiny of Cerebus the Aardvark (which will from now on just be referred to as ‘Cerebus the Aardvark’) didn’t have anywhere near that kind of budget—and it shows. But in a world of animation dominated by corporate giants such as Disney, Pixar and Dreamworks, Cerebus the Aardvark stands out from the crowd with its unique style and personality.
Writer-director Oliver Simonsen’s film is based on the Cerebus the Aardvark comic series by Dave Sim, which ran from 1977 until 2004. Being unfamiliar with the comic book series, I can’t speak to whether this film follows that story or not. But here, we see Cerebus the Aardvark hired by G’ar and T’ar (a dual role for Yuell Newsome) to steal a jewel from the powerful wizard Maki (Stephen Mendel). From his tower, Maki uses his magic to spy on Cerebus, as he fractures his destiny by trading his barbarian helmet (an instrument crucial to Cerebus fulfilling his destiny of bringing the pig god to life) for a vest to disguise himself as a merchant. With his destiny now fractured, the very fabric of reality is fragmented.
We’re soon introduced to an array of strange and unusual characters. They range from the comical tweedle dee and tweedle dum like brothers, G’ar and T’ar and the Princes Mick and Keef (Jim Johnson) to the villainous Necross the Mad (Michael Petranech). John Di Crosta voices our aardvark hero Cerebus and Lord Julius and does a fine job in both roles. The rest of the voice cast is a bit of a mixed bag, ranging from the superb to the amateurish. Of course, It doesn’t help that the dialogue writing is itself generally lacking in flair and nuance. It’s not a big problem, though; it just means that, at times, the discourse between characters can feel forced, and jokes occasionally fall flat.
The main problems for me, though, were the clumsy editing and the lag in the animation, which sees character dialogue overlapping, some odd transitions between cuts and stuttering scenes of animation. These issues occur sporadically throughout the film and so aren’t a constant problem. Still, they are enough to take you out of the experience, which is a big deal for a film that relies so heavily on immersion.
Immersion is an area that Cerebus the Aardvark gets so, so right. The animation style is incredibly distinct. While it’s rough around the edges and very obviously made on a tight budget, it’s full of character, allowing it to stand out from the crowd. There are some great visuals here, too: close, intimate shots and sweeping scenic shots that give us the feeling of being transported to another time and place; Simonsen is a master of worldbuilding. The black and white scenes, in particular, are absolutely stunning to behold and also serve to hide the animation’s imperfections.
Overall, I really enjoyed my time in the world of Cerebus the Aardvark. It’s not perfect by any means, and it’s significantly held back by budgetary constraints. But Simonsen has shown himself to be a talented director. I’d love to see him do a sequel. I’d especially like to see him given a bigger budget to work with; I can only imagine what such a visionary could achieve.