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Keep it in Motion - Classic Animation Revisited: 'Mister Smile'

A look back at Fran Krause's influential student film, Mister Smile (1999)

'Mister Smile' by Fran Krause

Long before Fran Krause became a dream collector and CalArts instructor, he made - with his brother Will - Mister Smile (1999), a wonderfully silly student film at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) that combines  references to Charles Laughton’s classic film, The Night of the Hunter (“love” and “food” tattoos replace the iconic ‘love’ and ‘hate’ ones found on the knuckles of Robert Mitchum psycho preacher character)) with aspects of both the absurdist tone and colour palette of Estonian animation (Estonian animation had been the country of focus at the Ottawa International Animation Festival in 1998 and many RISD students were said to have been smitten with some of the films they saw... though I think Mister Smile and the RISD gang also influenced some of the young animators at Eesti Joonifilm studio back then as well).

Don’t ask me to explain the film. A bunch of quirky characters find themselves invited to a soiree being thrown by a guy named Mister Smile. Along the way we get a sneak peek into the mysterious lives of the invitees which includes: a doctor who is experimenting on a monkey and chicken, two men, a bear and their robot, a big hearted woman who beds the mysterious Mitchum-esque bird stranger and makes heart sandwiches, an old man and his prankster squirrel).

The cast of oddballs finally come together at Mister Smile’s bash where the Mitchum bird educates them on the true meaning of his mysterious tattoos.... His poignant explanation will leave you moved and peckish.

Or something like that... really it doesn't matter... it’s just a pleasurable piece of absurdity that – unlike so much animation then and now - doesn't take itself all that seriously. The animation is minimal and perfectly imperfect, just the way I like my animation....  then and now.

Chris Robinson's picture

A well-known figure in the world of independent animation, writer, author & curator Chris Robinson is the Artistic Director of the Ottawa International Animation Festival.