If I say ‘animation’ what do you think of? I’m going to guess you’re not thinking of Spanish animation. Or creepy Spanish animation at that. I found a creepy short animation film by Rodrigo Blaas. Blaas is a Spanish animator who used to work for Pixar. He is known for his work on Wall-E, Finding Nemo and Up. But not many know him for his short films and personal projects.
In 2009 he created a short film called Alma. Blaas created it independently and released it to the world on Vimeo. He had no idea it would go viral and win awards all over the world. It’s a dark, quirky nightmarish short film that will want to make you get rid of any dolls and stuffed toys you may still treasure. It’s also… brilliant.
The story is set in winter in a Spanish town. We see Alma, who looks like a happy, carefree little girl skipping down a snow covered street. I love it when films introduce their title in an original way instead of just spewing the title in some boring font across the screen. In Alma, the title is introduced by Alma herself. She writes her name on a wall in chalk and the screen fades out to introduce the film.
Alma notices something behind her. It’s a shop with a doll in the window that looks (and is dressed) exactly like her. Of course, Alma wants the doll and she wants it now. If you look closely in this scene you notice that the shop window looks like a monster’s face. Warning number one!
But Alma can’t get in the shop. She gets angry like any little girl would and throws a snowball at the door. She walks away in a sulk. Then the door magically opens. Warning number two! Alma hurries in without a care or thought in the world. The shop is neat, orderly and full of beautiful dolls. It’s so full of wonder that as Alma walks towards her ‘doll twin’ she trips over a doll of a boy on a bicycle. She sets him right, but instead of going in the direction Alma puts him in he spins around and makes a break for the door. Warning number three! Why is the doll so desperate to get out?!
Alma’s doll twin continues to be elusive to her. From the table in the middle of the shop, it disappears and reappears on a high shelf. Alma has to get that doll. She does in the end but I won’t tell you, dear reader, what happens. All I can say is “curiosity killed the cat.” You can watch the film at the end of this post. It’s only five minutes.
I love the evilness of the film contrasted with naive innocence. I love the soft pastel, childlike colours of Alma herself and the dolls, which contrasts with the grey tones of the cityscape. The dolls are seriously creepy. But I mean, dolls are pretty weird if you actually think about it! The soundtrack is so whimsical and childlike but it’s strangely fitting in this weird nightmare.
I found out the word ‘Alma’ means ‘apple’ in Hungary. Now, we all know an apple is the ‘forbidden fruit’. The cause of the downfall of man in Christianity. If only Alma could resist her identical doll. In Spanish ‘Alma’ means ‘soul’. As little children, we all thought our toys (like dolls) had souls. They would come alive when we weren’t watching. Well did you ever stop to think exactly where those doll’s souls came from? Once you’ve watched the entire film you will realise how fitting and how brilliant Blaas was to make this the title. You will probably also have goosebumps when you think about all the dolls you had as a child and where they came from. Just saying….
It’s a bizarre, unsettling short film. But, the unexpectedness of it and unique thought that went into creating it is truly something. The film was part of a retrospective held at the MoMA gallery in New York earlier this month. It was called From Doodles to Pixels: Over 100 Years of Spanish Animation. The program highlights the little-known industry of Spanish animation. I had no idea the Spain was actually producing some amazing animation work since 1908. If Alma is anything to go by it’s definitely something to keep track of.
All images and film Copyright © 2016 Rodrigo Blaas.