Scarygirl is one of those animated productions so loaded with colour and bling, so lit up like a pinball machine, that merely absorbing it makes you feel old. While watching I couldn’t help but wonder if today’s youth consume too many flashing lights and loud noises – and, by the way, keep it down, some of us have to work in the morning.
After getting used to the film’s visually overwhelming brightness, it became clear that the creative aspects brought to life by directors Ricard Cussó and Tania Vincent only exist on the surface. Underneath, the story follows a classic hero’s journey where a young person answers the call to adventure, leaves their comfort zone, and encounters both allies and enemies before facing off against a rambling villain with a complex backstory. This villain, Dr Maybee, is voiced by Sam Neill and is joined by a talented cast including Tim Minchin, Deborah Mailman, Anna Torv, Dylan Alcott, Mark Coles Smith, and Rob Collins.
Join in on the excitement by subscribing to our weekly Saturday morning newsletter featuring a curated list of must-reads, pop culture updates, and weekend tips.
Many adults may wonder if they can enjoy watching “Scarygirl” with their child, much like they did with “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” and the “Spider-Verse” movies. However, it is unlikely that they can do so comfortably, as the film based on Nathan Jurevicius’s graphic novel lacks originality and the plot feels formulaic. While the visuals may be lively and dynamic, the overall experience may leave older viewers unimpressed.
The main character in this story is Arkie, who is voiced by Jillian Nguyen. She is portrayed as a gothic octopus with black hair, an eye patch, a tentacle-like arm, and a bobble head that seems too large for her small body. She has a resemblance to something you would see in a Tim Burton movie – spooky but also adorable. Before we are introduced to Arkie’s peaceful community by the peninsula, which includes both a beach and mountains, we are given a prologue that hints at the upcoming challenges her father, Blister (played by Rob Collins), will face. He is a rare giant octopus that looks like a mixture of a toy squid and a broccoli sprout.
In a bar named City of Light, a customer wearing a robe and having glowing yellow eyes asks a underworld figure with an Australian accent to send his bounty hunters to bring a squid. I briefly considered the flexibility of consciousness, the perception of reality, and the overall strangeness of the situation. However, there is no time for contemplation as the scene suddenly changes to a peninsula where Arkie visits her father. Her father possesses the ability to regenerate life, for reasons unknown to me. As a giant beam ominously reaches towards the sky, reminiscent of a villain’s weapon in a superhero movie, we learn that there are dangerous and selfish individuals who are draining resources from the sun. These individuals do not see the world in the same way as others do.
As Blister suggests, “let’s go help some plants,” my idea of using this story as a metaphor for climate change became more certain. However, the environmental themes take a backseat to the main villain, who uses a powerful energy beam as a weapon. The villain’s past is explored in the final act, and a surprising connection is revealed between him and the hero, adding a personal element to the conflict.
I wouldn’t say the film’s aesthetic is original, but it certainly looks bold, if a little cutesy and computery, like cutscenes from a child-oriented video game informed by a vaguely stop-motion-esque look. It would have been wonderful for some of that boldness to have made its way into the screenplay. All the expected boxes are marked, then filled. Prologue? Tick. Smidge of worldbuilding? Tick. Emotional bonding scenes before disruption of the status quo? Tick. Crossing the threshold into dangerous scenarios? Tick. A potentially planet-destroying crisis? Tick. A moralistic resolution? Tick.
The top-rated family films evoke both the grown-up and youthful sides of viewers. However, this particular one confuses vibrant visuals for true ingenuity, as it focuses more on appearance rather than substance. The script could have benefitted from some of Blister’s rejuvenating abilities.