IAN: STO Union’s The Twilight Parade is a genuinely impressive undertaking: a 70-minute hand-animated film entirely put together by local community members, while 8 voice actors provide live voiceover. This family-friendly (for the most part) show follows a young fairy-like creature and the residents of a small town as they address the lack of love and understanding in their community. It’s a commendable project but the unfocussed storyline is a definite weakness, and I’m unsure how effectively the interaction between live and recorded performance pushes boundaries.
In the age of Pixar and Marvel the puppet animation of Twilight Parade might not seem very impressive on a technical level, but that’s not the point, and this is in fact addressed in a framing narrative where the puppet “playing” the main role is backstage for the “performance”, which is the film itself (although the film has already started, or else we wouldn’t have seen this framing narrative in the first place. I’m going to stop now). Think the general aesthetic of TVO Kids, and you may start to understand the charm of the aesthetic and overall tone of this show – and the overall variety in design for the puppets is nothing to scoff at either.
The story of the film proper however is somewhat perplexing: in a magical realm in the sky, a race of fairy-like creatures called Schmoos observe humans falling in love, and this love creates invisible threads which the Schmoos then harvest to “hold up” their world. People aren’t feeling as much love as they used to though, and plucky misfit Darmagon, who resembles a winged T-rex, sets out to prove to the three overly strict matrons of the realm that he can help. Darmagon quickly runs into some sort of demon however, but narrowly escapes to the human realm at “The Human Bar” where he hopes to meet his probable human father. But all is not well in the human world either: an evil corporate overlord has taken over all the world’s resources and everyone is blaming each other! Can Darmagon help the townspeople come together to take back their well and then defeat the demon who stole his Cauldron of Light, thus proving to his three mother figures that he’s responsible?
The story is complicated but it mostly feels this way due to inconsistencies and missed opportunities for payoff. The demon and the corporate overlord are played by the same puppet but otherwise the connection between the characters is largely unexplained. Darmagon learns that the three matrons’ annual night on earth consists of finding a human male with whom to mate (more on that in a bit) and sets out to find his father, but the storyline falls flat, not just because Darmogan already has a personal goal in proving his responsibility, but also because the meeting between father and winged son goes from the father barely wanting to acknowledge the son to giving him his old Swiss Army knife, inside of 45 minutes. The significance of the Cauldron of Light is never explained, nor what the state of affairs is at the end, besides the three matrons being less strict with Darmagon. Kid really had to work hard to get his moms off his back, no?
This show has an audience advisory rating that it’s appropriate for ages 10 and up, although there are a few elements that would be a little odd for a 10 year old to experience. The notion that the three motherly figures go down to earth one night a year to seduce a human man would have raised eyebrows if my parents had taken me to see this when I was younger, and the setting of a bar in the “human realm” scenes sets up some alcoholism jokes that seem out of place. The main question of appropriateness though comes not from trying to teach younger audiences right and wrong, but maybe too many types of right and wrong. The discord in the human world of Twilight Parade is based on economic stress at heart, with big business superseding government to the detriment of the average quality of life. One character however starts to turn the conversation toward racial tensions, and with this combination of two pernicious worries in North American society the dramatic situation feels a little too mature for people who aren’t into following the 6 o’clock news.
It’s not to say that I didn’t like Twilight Parade. The creativity is through the roof, and the performance of the live voice actors is truly impressive, especially given that some of them have to change character within the same conversation at times. That’s the thing, though: normally voice acting doesn’t involve running through the entire film with everyone in the room. The performance of Twilight Parade, or at least the part that happens live, is the voice actors on the sides of the room doing the dialogue while the film plays. Their performance is theatrical only because in this instance they are on a stage in front of an audience. It’s theatrical, but I’m not convinced this makes any bigger statement on live vs. mediated performance.
Well, I guess I had a lot of thoughts about this one! What about you, Brie?
BRIE: I was very impressed, actually, with the animation style and the overall aesthetic of The Twilight Parade. Each puppet has been hand-crafted by a resident of Wakefield, Quebec and the puppets themselves range in a variety of styles from the more realistic human-type puppets (some even complete with false eyelashes) to the more abstract style of the Schmoos and Darmagon. Visually each puppet has its own distinct style which is then further fleshed out by the voices and personalities provided by the live cast on stage. My personal favourite has to be the newscaster puppet which appears to be just a pencil-drawn bespectacled face on a plain white papier-mache head; but juxtaposed with the over-the-top news anchor personality (think Ron Burgundy) supplied by the voice actor I couldn’t help but giggle.
Animation-wise, no, it’s not Pixar by any stretch of the imagination and as the film goes on to prove: you don’t need Pixar-sized resources to produce visually stunning work. There’s lots of rich colours and textures at play, especially in the backgrounds of most of the shots, and this is perhaps best exemplified in the scene where the Demon antagonist tricks naive but steadfast Darmagon into giving him the Cauldron of Light- a special container which transforms human love into magical threads that hold up the fantasy world of the Schmoos. We then watch as the Cauldron is sent through the Demon’s loom-like machine which appears to ‘reverse-engineer’ all of the shiny white threads (that also bear the appearance of being intricately hand-drawn), and turns them into rough burlap (an evil material that’s used to enslave other Schmoos). This technicolour world of the Schmoos with its blend of vibrant blues, purples, pinks and greens, however, stands in direct contrast with the world of the humans which is depicted as being devoid of colour as humans have seemingly forgotten how to love. It’s a very simple, yet effective method of establishing atmosphere and mood.
That being said, I do agree with you, Ian, about how this piece might translate to a younger audience. While at the beginning of The Twilight Parade we are introduced to some different metaphors and imagery to signify some larger, more philosophical, concepts at play (which is definitive of most art directed at the youth), it gets a tad heavy handed about midway through and towards the end. A specific example would be the scene where a puppet band performs a rather catchy song during their “sound check” at the Human Bar and directly following this performance we see a group of individuals storm in with signs protesting capitalist exploitation which then colours the scene and dialogue directly afterwards. It’s not that parents don’t have the ability to talk to their kids about the evils of capitalism and/or racism, I’m just not sure the material itself is being presented in an interesting enough way to inspire younger audiences to want to engage with it. What I mean by this is that where The Twilight Parade can feel quite pedantic at times; traditionally,the most effective way to educate kids about a certain issue is by attempting to not teach them at all.
Take, for instance, the Harry Potter series: while usually labelled as novels for “young adults”, Harry Potter transcends demographics because of J.K. Rowling’s apt use of allegory to tackle concepts like racism (i.e. Mudbloods versus Purebloods) and classism (i.e. the Weasleys versus the Malfoys). The Twilight Parade could have certainly utilized the realm of fantasy more to their benefit in this regard, as even I found myself zoning out during what’s supposed to be the climactic showdown between the characters representing the Working Class Man and the Immigrant. The moment is, unfortunately, weighed down by an incredible amount of dialogue between the two and has little to no stakes involved given that I don’t think we ever really fear for the safety of the young immigrant girl. Certainly it’s not to say that issues of race and class are fun (most of us, I think, are well aware of the too often serious and violent effects of both racism and classism), but that the engagement of young minds usually comes at the cost of a framework of fantasy, adventure, and thrill- which is I think what STO Union was actually going for. However, this particular scene is a little too ‘on the nose’ and detracts from the overall replay value of the piece.
Visually (or rather aesthetically) this piece knocks it out of the park for me, especially with the wonderful voice work of the eight actors on stage; but content-wise I’m not quite sold.
The Twilight Parade
A STO Union Production
Created by Nadia Ross and the people & puppets of Wakefield, Quebec and area
Directed by Nadia Ross
Animation by Madeleine Ranger and Thea Pratt