Why am I alive? It’s a huge question for any art form to confront, let alone a short animation for children. Howard Vause’s The Curious Child is a whimsical and thought-provoking attempt, which follows one girl’s journey through knowledge. Aided by her helpful woodland friends and hindered by some not so helpful fellow humans, both the child and the audience learn a little about life and death.
This is a brave subject to tackle, and children’s films often shy away from such heavy subject matter. However, Vause approaches it with a lightness of touch that sweetens the issues at hand without dampening their philosophical clout.
Couched in comforting music and the somnolent tones of Bethan Dixon Bate’s narration, pondering the nature of life itself does not seem depressing but enlightening. Similarly, the enchanting imagery of the magical wooded landscape emphasises the wonder and bizarre beauty of the earth, rather than ruminating on the potential meaninglessness of existence. More work could perhaps have gone into smoother animations of the characters’ speech, but some may argue that their puppet-like movements are part of the film’s rag-doll charm.
In comparison to the woodland wonder, the human carnival seems even bleaker, with its ghastly appearance and clever critiques aimed at the adult world. Instead of a normal ticket, a credit card grants you entry into the carnival that offers nothing more than greed and deception. In such a short film, this incisive imagery works wonderfully to efficiently convey its scathing message.
Casting a snowy white caterpillar as death is another innovative feature, as it does away with the grim dread of a dark hooded figure and instead presents death as something that can be beneficially transformative and beautiful.
The Curious Child is an unusual film both in its aesthetics and in its content. It manages to be suitable for younger viewers without being sickly sweet, and moreover achieves the essential yet difficult feat of conveying a huge amount in a small space. For these reasons, it is worth watching for curious children and adults alike.
'The Curious Child' was a film in consideration for Short Focus Film Festival 2019.