Chris Sullivan’s slice of life piece Consuming Spirits takes animation above and beyond your typical animated movie. Employing three different types allows him to not only to differentiate between time periods, but also shows off what a masterpiece his work truly is.
The animation is superb, each variety used in a specific manner. A majority of the movie finds itself done in cutouts, giving the characters an interesting and homemade feel while still retaining a large range of movement and emotion. They appear puppet-like in their motions, acting in a sort of mechanical manner. Long conversations change the style of cutouts, often using still images with moving mouths. The image is not necessarily of those onscreen, but still helps set the proper tone the scene sets, having images fly in and out that help convey messages.
As the setting shifts, we are given literal transitions, stop-motion cars and buses traveling from one building to the next. The animation again feels homemade, going for a quick but efficient transition, as opposed to a nonstop realistic scene à la Wallace and Gromit. The traveling character is easily identified by the car, Gentian Violet, our female protagonist, often driving a school bus while Earl Gray, another reoccurring character, has a trusty pickup.
Lastly, we also a more traditional animation, done in hand drawn sketches. These are often used in flashback, allowing for the emotion of the scene to dictate what is on screen. A primary example is the repeatedly shown memory of Ida Blue being taken away to the Holy Angels Sanatorium, the rest of the Blue family is shown gradually shrinking, growing smaller and smaller as their sadness becomes heavier. The animation allows us to see through the eyes of the narrator, seeing the world as they saw it, regardless of their trustworthiness as a storyteller.
The work has a tone that is true to its name, the characters often seen in bars talking of this and that, drinks in hand. Sullivan does not shy away from alcohol, using it to set the somber mood for the town, one ripe with mystery and intrigue. Earl uses his radio show to talk us through the town, as well as the inhabitants themselves, providing comfort in the midst of missing nuns and dying mothers. Something about the smallnes of town, how all the characters are related in more ways than one, reminds me of Winter’s Bone. Both show real stories of characters that have something to hide, the whole tale not being revealed until the end where we are left with a lingering sadness and death.
It is a treat to have an artist introduce his own work, especially one that seems so dear to Chris Sullivan. The film shows his hard work of the last fifteen years, and utilizes such wonderful forms of animation in a truly exquisite manner. It is refreshing to see stop-motion and cutouts in a industry overrun by computer generated films with protagonists that all look the same (i.e., most of Pixar’s latest creations). I hope this is film that Sullivan will continue to promote and tour as it brings such life and realness back to animated film.