Anna Podskalská’s Red Shoes presents a popular and insidious trend within contemporary animated cinema at the moment, with its animation style aping the oil-painting-on-canvas approach taken with critical darling Loving Vincent from a few years previous. This specific style isn’t one that lacks some level of base praise, albeit more for the time that was put into the final product than what was allocated for storyboarding, but it feels entirely like a technical flex searching for a pronounced visual aesthetic. Some issues to work out upfront to help clarify this stance: The bulky and thick brush strokes that comprise each character restricts their movement into more obvious gestures, taking out most of the motion from anything that’s not a central object. So while each individual frame is being painted, only a few sections of the composition are being affected, making for some stiff gestures and lifeless backgrounds. It also never looks particularly good as a general practice, coming off as crude and unmemorable by most modern animation standards — hell, even the carbon-copy thick-line CalArts style of most running American cartoons has a little something more of a visual flair going for it than stuff of this ilk.
What’s so unique to animation and it’s inherent sensibilities is the artistic liberation afforded by this mode of expression, not immediately concerned with representing reality or any indexicality. So why limit what one’s able to accomplish within their given medium or art form? This type approach brings with it an air of respectability from types who usually wouldn’t be caught dead watching something animated (i.e., clearly for children and only them), so maybe that’s why artists are perfectly fine operating within this clunky technique. Even disregarding all of that and attempting to view the short on its own terms, it’s still severely lacking in anything exciting. The basic narrative outline involves a young girl who begins to dance uncontrollably whenever she wears these devilish red shoes, and that limiting conceit fairly confines the film (though to be fair, the simplicity here is probably a product of its source material). The end to this short conflict? She has her legs cut off by some Baba Yaga-esque figure wielding a scythe, teaching her the all important lesson that… dancing is bad? At least during those sections, things become more jovial, as the brownish color palette contrasts against the crimson fury of those cardinal loafers, the only moments of inspiration that don’t feel distinctly try-hard and deadening in their meager aspirations.
Published as part of Cannes Film Festival 2021 — Dispatch 6.