Reviews Short Narrative

Muffin Goes Clubbing (2019) – 2.5 stars

Director: Lucy Guy

Writer: Lucy Guy

Running time: 5mins

It’s not an exaggeration to claim independent animation has become one of the toughest segments of filmmaking to break into over the last decade. Filmmakers in this genre are really confined to competing in two extremely hostile environments; film festivals or web-video.

Film festivals are usually totally beyond the reach of fledgling filmmakers, because even independent animations tend to have large teams behind them, and are financially backed by minor studios. The huge amount of high quality shorts that these content mills can pump out often sees newcomers at a major disadvantage, if not entirely excluded from the festival circuit.

Fortunately, the advent of online video presented developing animators with a new proving ground in the last 20 years – particularly on YouTube. Sadly, the platform has undeniably peaked in the decade since the likes of David Firth, OneyNG and Harry Partridge used the video-hosting site to propel themselves into public notoriety. They were able to draw huge audiences – and ad revenues – with a potent blend of other-worldly characters, high-quality effects, and if all else failed, abrasive or vulgar humour.

Thanks to the increasing commercialisation of Google’s property, however, there has been a rapid decline in animation as a medium on YouTube. The privatisation of the digital commons has seen many of those who formerly made a living from the site forced to scale down their operations, after advertisers nagged Google into excluding ‘NSFW’ content from monetisation. Meanwhile, those who survived that cull faced increasingly stiff competition from corporate content, and partner videos with the weight of the mainstream media behind them.

This hands a massive handicap to new talent like Lucy Guy, Director of Muffin Goes Clubbing, then. It is to her credit that she has not given up her hopes of moving into independent animation, in spite of how stifled that genre has become. Guy exhibits real potential as a filmmaker going forward; she clearly has an eye for designing characters audiences can tie themselves to, and a good idea of how to produce a solid story-arc over a short amount of time. If she can build on those elements, Guy will be able to gain traction as an animator.

The titular Muffin, for instance, is a savvy stylistic blend of cutesy and sassy. The tuxedo-wearing cub seems to have been snatched from the sweet-yet-shadowy world of Adventure Time. The short follows him as he dances up a storm in a bustling club to earn himself some free ice-cream. Muffin ultimately carries both the disarming sweetness of a younger character, and a street-wisdom which flummoxes many of the slow-thinking adults around him in a rather pleasing way.

The narrative of Muffin Goes Clubbing hinges upon this duality in its main character, and ultimately this provides a suitable twist that will bring at least a moderate giggle from its audience. It broadly strikes the right tone for a children’s film then, giving the kids something more immediate to laugh at, while parents can enjoy a knowing smile at some of its more adult implications (though one aspect that doesn’t bear thinking about in great detail is the fact that if the protagonist lied about his age, a number of adults did appear to hit on him).

At any rate, it is a fine idea for a short film, and has the potential to do well either on YouTube or be picked up by film festivals. Unfortunately, it is also a rather simple idea – and in this case that is the film’s undoing. One of the timeless truisms that appears relentlessly on TV’s MasterChef is that simplicity is a double-edged sword. A simple dish can give the contestant a much-needed familiarity to quell any nerves, and build out from. However, if you have the temerity to cook a burger for Greg and John, it had best be the best, most innovative burger they have ever eaten, or it will send you home.

Guy’s Muffin does not live up to that requirement. Decent character design and a disciplined plot are good starting points, but if nothing majorly ground-breaking is being said over the course of the film, it is simply not imaginative or eye-catching enough. The animation is unfinished – largely Muffin’s dance-moves consist of two alternating frames, while the crowd around him consists of hastily scrawled doodles that would look unpolished on the back of a napkin, let alone in an animated short film being screened at a film festival, or streamed by thousands of global viewers.

In the end, then, Muffin Goes Clubbing does not cut the mustard. While there are core elements in place here, it either requires a more engaging narrative, or a more polished style of animation to really make it come alive and differentiate itself from an extremely competitive field.

Lucy Guy’s short might lack polish, but that does not mean she should not pursue independent filmmaking. On the contrary, she has the crown-jewels of the field – she has a knack for character design and can structure stories in a way that works well for a five minute short. If she sticks at it, Muffin is a character who could take her all kinds of places, if accompanied with the required level of sparkle in terms of animation or storytelling.

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