Film Review: The Chaperone

August 17, 2014 § Leave a comment

Released: September 11, 2013; Animation Short; Written & Directed by: Fraser Munden & Neil Rathbone; With: Ralph Whims, Stefan Czernatowicz, Fraser Munden, Chris McMahon

The Chaperone lays out the previously untold true tale of Ralph Whims, a teacher who defends a group of middle school kids at a dance against a biker gang in 1973. The movie bills itself as “a hand drawn story,” but it’s an absolute work of art, a collage of drawn animation, perfect small-scale set pieces, puppets, and live-action martial arts sequences.

Ralph and Stefan, the DJ at the dance-in-question, narrate the story. One of the most endearing and truly riveting elements of their storytelling is Ralph’s propensity to expand on a given situation or setting, whether it be in terms of the way children view teachers or what it really means to be a chaperone. Ralph’s not telling a story, he’s telling his story, and Munden and Rathbone fall in line, capturing every quirk and tick and turning them into something truly lovely. One of my favorite representations of this is when Ralph mentions how the biker gang entered the dance and saw that he and Stefan were “dressed in the very modern style of the late-60s, early-70s.” The visual accompanying this observation is a hand drawn magazine opening to feature a dual-page display of precisely what those styles are. But, it doesn’t stop there. The magazine is then lowered and the viewer sees that it’s presumably being held by a woman in a beauty parlor. What’s really lovely about this sort of “train-of-thought” approach is that it’s exactly the way we tell stories. We don’t ever just give facts, we give our experiences, and those experiences might lead us to talk about other things or to wax philosophical a little bit. That’s the nature of a story, and it’s such a pleasure to watch it play out onscreen here.

While the nature of the story Ralph tells isn’t comical, there are liberties taken with the visuals because it’s a tale told in retrospect and it’s a tale told with a very specific point of view. When Ralph explains how he began fighting the motorcycle gang, first looking for the leader by posing a question to the group (the man they all look to before answering is the guy in charge), then throwing punches, the sequence that follows is full of piñata gang members whose heads pop off with each punch, exploding into shreds of crepe paper. The whole arrangement is run under a grindhouse blaxploitation film score.

While this is a cautionary tale, it’s not for those minding their own business and enjoying the middle school dance. It’s for those cowardly enough to relegate themselves to gang activity. Ralph’s lessons aren’t necessarily of the unconditionally love-thy-neighbor variety, but they are practical and full of self-respect.

From the sunny beginning to the relief-filled end, this film is beautiful, hilarious, and bittersweet. Please be sure to make time for this total treasure of a movie.

-Leah Gehlsen

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