First Men on the Moon (2017)

You can tell a lot about someone by what he does when he has a bit of spare time on his hands.

Now most of are going to sit back and do something incredibly challenging like going fishing, or playing videogames, or watching football.

But, if you are Brett Piper, perhaps the greatest living stop motion animator, then you take a break from making movies, creating props and animating monsters by…

Making a short film.

And not just any short film but an amazing, seven minute condensation of one of the classic novels of Victorian Science Fiction, First Men in the Moon.

But it’s done in a lively, handmade animation that reminds me a bit of George Pal’s old Puppetoons films, although Brett’s work is far more expressive.  His puppets have a lot of personality even when they are sitting still, and he gives them lots of little quirks as if they were real people.  His tiny model sets are loaded with detail, and, of course, we get a wild collection of moon monsters, Selenites, and even the Grand Lunar himself.

As I’ve noted before, Brett’s best monsters often have just a touch of the comic to them, which makes them seem a little scarier.  But here, his humorous touch fits in well with his light-hearted retelling of a classic story.  Perhaps my favorite creatures here are the absurdly bulky worker Selenites, and the ones bred solely to work the treadmills.

But even though there are some lovingly absurd touches to the Grand Lunar, like the throne with its built-in supports for his massive head, he still comes across as an imposing — and at times frightening — creature.

Even though it is only seven minutes long, the film manages to hit most of the main points of the story, and even takes time to explore some of Wells’ themes.  However, it also brings a touch of humor to the story without collapsing into total burlesque.  I love our introduction to the Narrator, Bedford, when Brett gives his winking critique of his claims to be an aspiring playwright by showing us the huge piles of crumpled paper surrounding him, although perhaps the film’s best moment comes while Professor Cavor’s ship is weightless on its way to the Moon and we see Bedford lying casually in the air reading a book, as if he were lying on the couch.

Followed, of course, by a very natural moment of character animation.

Look, your kids are going to love this film — and you will, too.  It’s almost enough reason to buy Outpost Earth by itself.  It certainly leaves me wishing that I could find what is perhaps the only Brett Piper film which has escaped me so far, the obscure animated children’s film, The Return of Captain Sinbad.  The few photos I’ve seen look very much like his work on this film and it seems a shame no one has put it up on any of the major streaming services.  You’d think there’d be a lot of parents out there searching for films like these to share with their children.

However, I do need to note one minor thing for the nitpickers out there:

Despite the fact that Brett identifies this one as a “Two Minute Klassic,”  it is actually Seven minutes long.

But then, that’s like complaining that someone gave you three extra scoops of ice cream…

Watch on Vimeo

(Former Member of Mark’s Wish List)

Available on DVD with Brett Piper’s film Outpost Earth. Buy at Amazon (paid link):

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