Film Review: “Party Mix” — Much Ado about Death, Destruction … and Poop

There is no doubt about the creativity in this mix of short films. But are they all suitable fare for eight-year-olds?

A scene from "Johnny Express"

A scene from “Johnny Express” — “To see a World in a Grain of Sand.” Or maybe not.

By Paul Dervis

The Boston International Children’s Film Festival concludes tomorrow with Party Mix, a gathering of short live action and animated pieces dedicated to kids ranging from the age of eight to their early teens. On the one hand, the films here are inventive and thoroughly entertaining. My only question is … are these offerings really age appropriate?

The mix opens with an eleven-minute cartoon called Johnny Express. An astronaut lands on a planet so small it can barely accommodate his spacecraft. His mission? Look for signs of life. But there appears to be nothing to see; that is, unless he can discern creatures that would escape a microscope. There’s an entire civilization, but it is smaller than a speck of sand. The space traveller walks around this compact world, causing havoc with each step, destroying entire cities with each toe. He reports home that there is nothing around and he climbs back onto his ship and leaves. And, of course, as his rocket fires up it incinerates what little is left of the itsy bitsy culture. The film is both funny and tragic, but its dark humor seems tailored to an older audience.

Next up is Mythopolis, which focuses on a land inhabited by mythological characters. We follow a single mother’s search for love while she takes care of her small child. She goes on a number of bad dates; inevitably she turns her suitors into stone after she glares at them without her glasses on. Her kid wanders off and is cared for by a cyclops of a shepherd. When he returns the child, love blossoms.

Submarine Sandwich is a clever little piece about manufacturing a hero out of random balls and toys. The two-minute cartoon The Beginning gives us a tiny girl who assists God as he creates the world. The Trumpeter is from France and dramatizes the struggles of a young man in a military bugle corps who hears (and plays to) the tune of a different drummer. This film makes some profound points about the perennial conflict between individuality and conformity, but I dare say the seriousness of the concept will blow right past a young audience.

Two of the best shorts are A Single Life and Layla’s Melody.

In A Single Life we are welcomed into the home of a young woman as she is about to play a 45 rpm record on her phonograph. (Will any kids today know what a phonograph is?) Anyway, what she hears are different moments in her past. So, out of curiosity, she moves the needle to the end to find out what awaits her. You can just imagine how the record ends!

The best film in the "Party Mix" -- "Layla's Melody."

The best film in the “Party Mix” — “Layla’s Melody.”

But the best of the “Party Mix” is a documentary that, although it focuses on an eleven-year-old Afghan girl, is clearly targeting older teenagers as well as their parents.

Layla’s Melody is a poignant story about a child who matures, intellectually and artistically, in war-torn Afghanistan, where women are condemned for wanting to have an education. When Layla’s father is killed, she is sent from her small village to an orphanage in Kabul. There she can go to school (an opportunity denied her at home), learns to play the drums, and manages to remain unmarried at the ripe old age of eleven. The price? She hasn’t seen her family in five years. Why? If she goes home, even for a visit, she may well not be able to leave again. But this weekend her mother is coming to visit Layla … for the first time. The contrast between the determined young girl and her repressed, defeated mother is stark. As sad as this reunion is, it dramatizes the family’s choice to give up the girl so  she can have a meaningful future. The scene between mother and daughter is both despairing and inspiring — this short film attains an elemental power.

Then again, not all is serious in the “Party Mix.” There are plenty of scatalogical images to delight the kiddies. Tigers Tied Up in One Rope presents us with a child who scoops up various droppings to grow trees and plants, and then covers his pet dog in greasy sesame oil to attract tigers. The tigers eat the dog, but the dog slides through their digestive tracts, and, well you can guess the rest.

And then there’s Oh My Dog. Dog owners showcase their pooches in a talent show, and one mutt can create masterpieces from its….enough said.

There is no doubt about the creativity in this mix of short films. But are they all suitable fare for eight-year-olds?

Paul Dervis has been teaching drama in Canada at Algonquin College as well as the theatre conservatory Ottawa School of Speech & Drama for the past 15 years. Previously he ran theatre companies in Boston, New York, and Montreal. He has directed over 150 stage productions, receiving two dozen awards for his work. Paul has also directed six films, the most recent being 2011’s The Righteous Tithe.

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