Review – ‘Carl and Belle’ Directed by Jeremy HollenbecK

Directed by Jeremy Hollenbeck and written and animated by Za’kei Allen, ‘Carl and Belle’ is an animated short film that charts the exploits of an anthropomorphic mushroom in the jungle.

Directed by Jeremy Hollenbeck and written and animated by Za’kei Allen, ‘Carl and Belle’ is an animated short film that charts the exploits of an anthropomorphic mushroom in the jungle.

Carl is an old mushroom, who when returning home, comes across Belle, who has lost her parents. Taking pity on her condition, Carl decides to help Belle find her parents but a slew of dangerous creatures lurk in the forest, making their journey anything but easy.

For the lack of a better word, ‘Carl and Belle’ is a curious film that succeeds in conveying way more than similar genre films manage to do in the same limited runtime. The animation of the film is fluid and mesmerising, the various themes poignant and the voice acting phenomenal. Hollenbeck really knows how to capture the conflict between the young and old in a meaningful way, one that both fleshes out the characters and works well within the context of the story.

By far the biggest strength of the film is its animation. Coming across as hand sketched yet highly dynamic, the animation adds a new layer to the story and brings life to both the jungle and the characters that inhabit it. Hollenbeck uses the creative avenues provided by this type of animation to maximise the emotions of his characters, resulting in a film that feels heartfelt and moving. The way the animation is able to highlight the subtle facial changes is mesmerising to see. We see the depressed, dejected face of Belle as she struggles to find her parents and the way Carl fluctuates between different emotional states is a home run. This blend of audiovisual goodness goes a long way in helping convey the subtle nuances of Carl’s journey.

Equally impressive is the voice acting that brings the different characters to life. Mike De La Morte does double duty as both Carl and Belle’s father and is both sensitive and meek. Joakin manages to achieve a level of vulnerability to the character that ensures that we always root for him. On the other hand, Karissa Valentine plays Belle. Belle is a soft soul and as she and Carl begin their odyssey across the dangerous forest, one cannot help but be happy for them. Hollenbeck has managed to translate the existential dread faced by the protagonist very cleverly on screen. Giving a ‘Lost in Translation’ vibe where the main character feels exhausted and cornered by the jungle around him, Hollenbeck puts the audience in the shoes of a mushroom as it battles thoughts, desires and dreams whilst traversing around a seemingly hostile jungle.

In regards to the cinematography, it is great. The colors are great, the animation slick and the character design could not be better. The way Hollenbeck is able to capture this fantastical jungle deserves praise as we, the audience, are totally enamoured with the story owing to the director’s creative choices.

Seeing the finished film in all its glory, I am unashamed to admit that most of the praise should be laid at director Hollenbeck’s feet. Taking inspiration from various stories about being lost in a conundrum, Hollenbeck has made a haunting portrait of a soul yearning to reconnect in an increasingly distant world. There is something in this film that speaks deeply about our own insecurities. For an eight minute short, the film packs so much into its short runtime that it feels we have known the protagonists since forever. Utilising every available second of runtime, the narrative pacing is perfect and dives into the moody, atmospheric story in a way that feels both organic and poignant. Therefore, ‘Carl and Belle’ is a fantastic animated film that works in more ways than one. It is both a sublime work of art that speaks both to the loneliness and the ambitions hiding inside each one of us and a potent expression of creativity by an artist who has a bright future ahead of him. Hollenbeck has made a potent short, one that is heavy on both themes and visuals. There is a visceral beauty to the film and its haunting portrayal of loneliness and love will stay with you long after it has ended.


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