Watching Scarygirl it becomes even more increasingly annoying that Australian cinema hasn’t embraced animation as thoroughly as we should. Sure, we have the likes of Blinky Bill and Ferngully to claim as our own (and, yes, I’m aware of Happy Feet, but it feels like an entity separate from the more independently funded productions), but, aside from the sensation that is TV’s Bluey, it’s a genre that we tend to leave alone.
And it’s that singular mentality that makes Scarygirl all the more of a standout, a status it already adheres to thanks to its unique visual style that brings to mind LAIKA’s Coraline. Of course, Scarygirl is a far more family friendly film than the aforementioned Coraline, as it details Arkie (voiced with gorgeous earnestness by Jillian Nguyen), a half-octopus-half-human tween, who has to face her own fears as she embarks on a journey to save her father, Blister (Rob Collins), a rare form of octopus that can regenerate life, from the nefarious clutches of Dr. Maybee (voiced with mad brilliance by Sam Neill).
I’m aware that sounds quite sinister, but the world that Nathan Jurevicius has created, and further enhanced by the direction of Richard Cusso and Tania Vincent, is a more Alice In Wonderland-meets-Wizard of Oz-type fantasy that younger audiences should view with open-eyed wonder. Arkie having to overcome the stigma she has essentially placed on herself regarding her half-breed appearance is another aspect that should resonate with younger audiences and their body image, whilst the main story of Dr. Maybee’s technological creation setting out to destroy the natural flora of Arkie’s peninsula is an environmental message that all audiences could benefit from.
As great as the commentary packed within is though, the execution of the narrative itself could be stronger, with the pace needing a tighter cohesion and certain characters suffering from a story that favours visual splendour and surface-level shadings of its players. But though these shortcomings means there’s an emotional distance for us as viewers, the vocal work from everyone involved, including an endearing, energetic Remy Hii as bounty hunter Bunniguru and Tim Minchin as the devious Chihoohoo, a tantrum-prone underworld lord who beckons to Maybee’s every call, make up for it through their utter devotion.
Imaginatively directed and visually stunning, Scarygirl, despite some shortcomings, is ultimately a winning experience as it shines bright, inviting its viewers to embrace the power of positivity in even the darkest of days. Likely to be even more of a winning experience to those familiar with the Scarygirl brand of VR games and books, Cusso and Vincent’s vibrant film overcomes any clichés with undeniable creativity.
THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Scarygirl is now screening in select Australian theatres.