Alma (2009 short animated film) review…

Alma (2009 short animated film) review after the break…

Alma (2009 short animated film) review…

A creepy store displaying a doll resembling the child that walks by it is the setting for “Alma,” a 2009 short animated CGI film (less then 6 minutes long) that is supposedly being converted into a full-length animated feature by Dreamworks in the not-so-distant future.

With the film being so short, there is little time for background or subtlety. Alma, the young girl who is the only character in the film, is that of most children – She sees the doll, she wants the doll. Of course, such lofty goals are never that simple. From the glass window of the store to a door that mysteriously unlocks itself to a doll that keeps moving places when attention is diverted – Alma must persevere at every step to handle a doll that seemingly doesn’t want to be touched… Or does it?

There is little here that an experienced viewer hasn’t seen before: Ominous store front display window shaped sort of like a mouth? Check. Creepy empty store filled with life-like dolls? Check. Dolls who’s eyes move whenever the character isn’t looking in their direction? Check. None-too-subtle hints that the dolls want out of the store? Check.

Watching “Alma” is sort of like watching a baby carriage parked precariously on set of train tracks in the way of an oncoming train you just know can’t stop in time. The problem with “Alma,” though, is that you know the outcome not moments into watching the film. There’s no suspense – Alma will touch the doll, Alma will “become” the doll and be trapped in a sort of toy store purgatory until the end of time.

Animation, sound effects, music… These areas are academic and, if forced to actually concentrate on them, are more then sufficient for the project at hand. However, the plot and delivery of the plot are so ham-fisted that it wouldn’t matter if Pixar had handled those aspects (Just for the record, this would’ve never gotten off the storyboard over there) or it was the responsibility of a 5th grade class project. Such areas of consideration are lost because the viewer is almost transfixed by the blatant transparency of the “twist” which, for most people, will not even be a twist at all.

I feel bad for a short film like “Alma” because 5+ minutes is hardly enough time for any sufficient plot, especially the type that “Alma” was aiming for, to develop. There’s no time to ask questions, like how the store can continue to capture children in a city. Wouldn’t parents notice after a while? If one doll can move, why can’t the others? If the bicycle doll could escape, what would it do? Would it turn back into a little boy or simply be a possessed doll?

I suspect that the DreamWorks film will have a far happier ending then it’s shorter inspiration; Certainly, DreamWorks wouldn’t want to be responsible for a trend of little girls abandoning their dolls or being afraid of them (Just imagine how the American Girl brand would feel about that).

Yet I’m mystified that such a simple gimmick, which has been done before (read: Twilight Zone) several times, was able to be greenlit as a full-length feature. There’s no real “twist” on the “doll/mannequin has a soul” here that makes it fresh or unique: Child walks into store, child touches doll, child becomes doll. Maybe the film could’ve shown a doll escaping and turning back into a human. Maybe the film could’ve had the dolls become more grotesque the farther away she walked from them. Something. Anything. At least with the short animated film “9,” there was an unique setting and storyline.

There’s nothing wrong with the production values of “Alma,” but there’s nothing here that you haven’t seen before, either. If this is all that it takes to sell a script in Hollywood these days, perhaps my time is best spent learning the software application “Blender.”

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