Claydream: Review

Claydream: Review

Claydream: Review. By Alif Majeed.

Will Vinton is a legendary animator and filmmaker known as the Father of Claymation. He won multiple awards, including an Academy Award for Best Animated short film. In the annals of animation hall of fame, his position is secure. Yet I’m embarrassed to say I did not know of the man until I came across Claydream, the documentary based on his life. So I appreciate the intention behind the documentary, even though it looks like a rushed highlight reel while trying to paint him as a tragic fallen hero.

One reason is the choice of clips used for the documentary. Claydream starts with Will Vinton peering into a makeshift claymation studio, and immediately you see the Walt Disney connection. The need to draw a parallel between him and the latter, almost trying to hammer the point, is incredible. Claymation always was too niche as an animation genre, even though some beloved movies have come from the genre. So the comparison seems almost unfair and even derogatory to Will Vinton. Another scene also plays up the parallel when he laments he had an option once to trade stocks with Pixar but dint when he had the chance. He muses that if he had gone through with it, he would be the biggest stock owner of Pixar. Though that possibility seems unbelievable now, it is as if they almost want to draw a parallel to the Netflix – Blockbuster level folly in not going through with it.

The movie then quickly touches upon his Academy award-winning short and his relationship with Bob Gardiner, his partner. The tragic suicide of the latter is also in focus. His fantastic work with claymation in advertisements and his love for Gaudi’s architecture, which inspired his work, are spoken of in broad strokes as it quickly moves from incident to incident. All these segments seem rushed through so that they can move on to the last segment where Phil Knight, co-founder of Nike, came in to rescue Will Vinton’s dying studio and took over and removed him from power.

It gives a good enough summary of what went on in his battle with Phil Knight. The movie leaves no doubt that Vinton was a fantastic animator and that his downfall and ouster have a lot to do with his inability to balance his work with the company’s business aspects.

It doesn’t create a clear-cut villain even though the movie briefly flirted with turning Travis Knight into a spoiled brat given too many chances to screw up before finally finding his calling. Though nepotism was also partly why Phil Knight took over, it was also a business decision to protect its investment. After being thrice Oscar-nominated animator and directing a fairly well-received blockbuster in Bumblebee, Travis deserves his fair, and the makers give him that. But it was interesting watching the legal battle play out in Claydream with Travis, who was working at Vinton’s studio, being one of the central pieces in it.

In the closing moments, there is a clip where he explains he is pleased with the direction his company has taken even if they rebranded it and he is not at the helm. You admire his sense of wonder and the lack of cynicism despite seeing his legacy stolen away from him. It was also heartbreaking to see that Will Vinton could not take his legacy to the next level and that he couldn’t go the Disney route without having to die with his legacy genuinely intact.

I also learned more from reading more of him after watching the documentary than from it. That is not necessarily bad, as I got to know more about him. Despite the rushed feel of Claydream, the effort to bring Will Vinton and his contribution to animation as an art form has to be appreciated.

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