In a nutshell: An animated masterpiece
about the life of an influential animator.
Ryan Larkin is an animator who created a few shorts in the late 60's
and early 70's that were very influential and groundbreaking. One
of them, Walking, was even nominated for an Academy Award.
After making only a handful of shorts, Larkin stopped making films and pretty much
disappeared. In 2004 film maker Chris Landreth set out to make a
documentary about the now forgotten cartoonist. He had an interesting
idea: What better way to document the life of an animator than in
an animated film? The result is Ryan, an amazing film that
is just as important as Larkin's original work.
Landreth is a friend of Larkin, who is now living in a shelter in Toronto
and panhandles for change. For this film he took some of their recorded conversations
and animated them. Most of the film takes place
in a cafeteria where the two men sit and talk. Landreth takes this
simple set-up and makes something wonderful and thought provoking with
his CGI animation. He creates a world where mental psychoses and
insecurities are presented as physical manifestations to one's appearance.
Every mental scar or trauma that we all carry around with us is visually
represented. Landreth has some colorful gouges on his cheek and an
indentation in his head due to previous traumas. No matter how odd
Chris looks though, Larkin is worse. He is just a skeleton of a man,
worn away from years of substance abuse, homelessness and personal demons.
His head just a fraction of a face and a shock of hair on his head.
When he talks about his fears and inability to create new art, colorful
tentecals of light burst forth from his body and bind his face, arms and
legs tightly, so that he's unable to move, or create. As the pair
talk, Larkin's past is revealed, his quick climb to the top, and his just
as rapid decent.
This is a very powerful film that works on multiple levels. As
an animation short it is creative and visually very stimulating.
It is also a good documentary, showing Larkin's personality and very concisely
illustrating how drugs and alcohol destroyed a budding talent. The
movie is also a comment on humanity in general; how we really see
things through a lens made up of all our experiences, and how we often
can be ruled by our fears.
That's a lot to fit into fourteen minutes, but Landreth does it very
well and makes it look easy. I was literally stunned after I watched
this for the first time, and had to immediately play it again. One
of the things that struck me was how creatively Landreth uses CGI animation.
While many animation studios are continually pushing the boundaries of
how realistic computer graphics can be, Landreth takes it the other way
and show how CGI can be used in a surrealistic fashion to visually illustrate
emotions and mental problems. It's almost like a Dali painting that
has come to life. This is truly a masterpiece and well deserves the
Academy Award that it won in 2005.
I would have been happy owning just Ryan, but there is a lot
more on this disc too. The second feature is Alter Egos, a
documentary on the making of Ryan and a look at both Ryan Larkin
and Chris Landreth. This film runs nearly an hour and is an excellent
supplement to Ryan. After I screened the short I was very
interested to learn more about both Larkin and Landreth. This documentary
answered many of the questions that I had. It features interviews
with both animators, as well as friends of Larkin who know him when he
was an up and coming animator. Though you get to hear more of Larkin's
thoughts on his past and present, it is interesting to note that the shorter
animated work pegged his personality very succinctly.
The film also examines the relationship between the subject of a documentary
and the documentary film maker himself. Though many of the questions
are not answered concretely, it is interesting that it raises them.
Does Ryan exploit an man who is down on his luck? Is it fair to put
someone who is mentally fragile in the spotlight? What does Ryan
get out of all of this?
The only thing I disliked about this film was that they included the
lion's share of Ryan itself. Even if the film wasn't available
on this disc, I don't think that including most of it in one large chunk
helped the documentary. It took the focus away from the characters
that were being examined and put it on the film itself which was a little
distracting. Aside from that one flaw, it is an entertaining and
Ryan is presented in both stereo and a 5.1 mix. Both were excellent,
with no audio defects. The multichannel mix was more forceful and
made good use of the soundstage, but the stereo track was nearly as good.
A very good sounding disc.
The anamorphic widescreen video to Ryan was absolutely top-notch.
I was so wrapped up in the images and story the first time I watched Ryan
that I had to view it again. The second time I looked for digital
defects but I couldn't detect any. There isn't any aliasing or blocking
at all. The image looks great. The colors are bright and solid,
and the picture is very sharp. I wish all discs looked this
good. Ryan is a reference level film.
The documentary and other shorts on the disc aren't quite up to the
high standard that Ryan set, but they are very good overall.
This disc is absolutely packed with extra features. In addition
to Ryan and Alter Egos, there are director commentaries
to both films. Both of these are very illuminating and well worth
There are also selections of animated films that both Ryan Larkin and
Chris Landreth created. These films were all excellent and gave some
solid background on both creators. What's more, all of these shorts
have commentaries by the creators where they give insights to what they
were attempting to accomplish and say with their animation.
The Ryan Larkin films included are:
Syrinx: an very early effort done
in charcoal on paper. This tells the story of the Satyr Pan persuing
the maiden Syrinx. Larkin created some wonderful textures in this
Walking: An amazing film that was
nominated for an Academy Award. Larkin turns simple human motion
into beautiful art. The piece shows people walking around from different
perspectives. Both nude and clothed figures traipse across the screen
with extraordinary life-like movement. The astounding thing is that
none of the images were rotoscoped (tracing over film of actual people
moving, like in the movie American Pop.)
Street Musique: Another excellent
film. Larkin morphs shapes and people into colorful and interesting
images in this nearly nine minute film.
The Chris Landreth films included are:
the end.: An early CGI film about
two animated people who aren't happy being actors in someone else's play.
Bingo: A funny and yet dark short
about a man who everyone mistakes for Bingo the Clown. Although he
insists that he isn't Bingo, everyone still thinks he is. If the
rest of the world is sure that he's Bingo, doesn't that mean that he is?
Some excellent images and a slightly disturbing premise make this an excellent
There are also text pages on the directors and producers.
This is just a wonderful package. Not only is Ryan a fantastic
short, but Alter Egos is a very good documentary too. Add
to that the animated shorts by Lankin and Landreth and all of the
commentaries and you have an excellent DVD. There isn't anything
I can think of that would make this disc any better. Ryan
is a masterpiece, a movie that every film lover should see. DVD
Talk Collector Series.