Review: Male Branch – Stick Man (2015)

Male Branch – Stick Man (2015)

Directed by: Jeroen Jaspaert, Daniel Snaddon | 27 minutes | animation, short film, family | Original voice cast: Martin Freeman, Jennifer Saunders, Rob Brydon, Russell Tovey, Sally Hawkins, Hugh Benneville, Anouska White, Eve Bentley, Ben Jenkinson, Elliot Kelly, Ella Sutton, Isabel Ainsworth, Eden Muckle

making up nursery rhymes; it seems simple, but looks can be deceiving. Finding the right tone to address toddlers with is really not as easy as it seems. The story should appeal to children; they have to be able to recognize enough in it, but it also has to be a bit exciting, otherwise they will tire of it too quickly. Which tone do you use, which meter and which words? Julia Donaldson is an expert at it. Books from her hand can be found on the bookshelves of many families with young children. The British achieved her greatest successes alongside the German illustrator Axel Scheffler, who lives in London. In the early 1990s, when Donaldson was working as a songwriter for the BBC, they were linked when her song ‘A Squash and a Squeeze’ was cast in book form. Since then, they have co-created the neo-classics ‘De Gruffalo’ (‘The Gruffalo’), ‘The Snail and the Whale’ (‘The Snail and the Whale’) and ‘Mannetje Tak’ (‘Stick Man’).

The Belgian director Jeroen Jaspaert and the American Daniel Snaddon, who lives in South Africa, made an animation film of ‘Mannetje Tak’ (2015). Produced by Magic Light Pictures, which was previously responsible for the successful film adaptations of ‘The Gruffalo’ (2009), ‘The Gruffalo’s Child’ (2011) and ‘Room on the Broom’ (2012), also based on a book by Donaldson and Scheffler . ‘Stick Man’ is, unlike its three predecessors, made entirely with the computer. However, the mostly South African artists kept in mind that they had to remain faithful to the drawings in the book. So it definitely didn’t have to be perfectly smoothed out. In Britain it is now a tradition to broadcast the approximately half-hour animated films of Donaldson and Scheffler’s work on television at Christmas. In the case of ‘Stick Man’ that is also justified, because Santa Claus plays a crucial role in the story. This favorable timing – the premiere of ‘Stick Man’ on December 25, 2015 was watched by almost 9.3 million Britons – perhaps because big names from the British film and television world were eager to participate in the project. With Jennifer Saunders as the narrator, Martin Freeman as Stick Man and in various minor roles such as Rob Brydon, Sally Hawkins, Hugh Bonneville and Russell Tovey, success seems almost assured.

‘Stick Man’ or in Dutch ‘Manneke Tak’ is about a branch. Not just any piece of wood, but a branch with eyes, a nose, a mouth, arms and legs. So a stick insect. A delightful, positive family man, who lives in a hollow tree with his wife and three children. One morning he wakes up early, so he decides to go for a jog. He shouldn’t have done that. Because not everyone sees him for what he is: a living being. So he is grabbed by a dog, who wants to play with him. A young girl throws it into the river and a swan uses it to build her nest. All nice and nice, but Mantje Tak just wants to go back to his family. However, there is always someone who throws a spanner in the works. Seasons pass. Male Tak is even on fire for a moment! Just when he’s about to drop his head, Santa comes to the rescue.

‘Mannetje Tak’ is a charming film adaptation of a universal story. The animations are simple but effective and, most importantly, they approach Scheffler’s drawings. The power of Julia Donaldson’s stories is their wit and the power of repetition, and we see that in the film version as well. The changing of the seasons is subtly incorporated into the story and amusing witticisms are incorporated in each new fragment, both in words and images. Santa Claus in the Netherlands may not have such a magical appearance as in many other countries, but with the way in which he comes to save Mantje Tak from his predicament, he will win over even the most skeptical Dutchman. ‘Mannetje Tak’ is a sweet, classic children’s story, charming, with a lot of humor and warmth and a message that hits the nail on the head. For fans of the film adaptation of ‘The Gruffalo’, this one is not to be missed!

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