It’s risky to hype an animated film as a “masterpiece” but calling it the “most human movie of the year” is particularly brave. As we know, marketing is the art of labelling faults as virtues and in this case the hype disguises the film’s absence of humanity, morality or narrative purpose. Filmed entirely in stop-motion animation, it uses innovative technology to produce an emotionally vacuous tale based entirely on one of the oldest clichés in storytelling: a successful male’s mid-life neurosis about his shallow existence and his existential dilemmas.
While many audiences will find cleverness in the script, if it were delivered by human actors it would be bland and even ridiculous. This means that the entire production rests on audiences finding it amusing to hear puppets speak deep and meaningful thoughts, similar to movies where dogs or horses say cute things in a local accent. This time bland is given new meaning as every ‘character’ has the same voice except for Lisa’s, the anomaly whose name is embedded in the title. While this device may be intended to emphasis her individuality in his mundane life, it actually results in a monotonous soundtrack un-suited to probing “what it means to be human” as if an animated movie with expressionless puppets might have the answer.
Of course, it’s a powerless, uneducated and insecure female who is the inevitable victim of yet another middle-age male melt-down over self-identity, marital and girlfriend issues. When the permanently apologetic Lisa is discarded after a one-night stand she drifts into soft-focus while his crisis anchors the semi-climax. Clay animation techniques are slow and detailed, and the patience to create almost 120,000 separate frames is unimaginable. But this may be the metaphor for the film’s major failing. It dwells so heavily on the minutiae of technique and script sophistry that it overlooks its reliance on an old and dated narrative cliche. While it is an entertaining, original and interesting attempt to go somewhere different, for me it felt like a Muppets episode narrated by Aristotle. The mixture of painful souls, copulating puppets, and animatronics is just too weird.
Directors: Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson
Voice Stars: David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tom Noonan