Claymation may make you think of Chicken Run or Wallace & Gromit, but like any other medium, it can be used to tell any sort of tale, from humor to drama, and from the ordinary to the peculiar. The short film Harvie Krumpet is lodged firmly on the "peculiar" end of the spectrum; it's humorous in a very off-beat way, coming from the fact that it looks at the world from a rather odd perspective.
Harvie Krumpet is the life story of the titular character. Born with Tourette's Syndrome to poor and odd (but loving) parents in a tiny Polish town, Harvie muddles through life as best he can, collecting "fakts" and recording them in the notebook that hangs around his neck. His story, narrated in a voiceover by Geoffrey Rush, is one of constant disappointment and disaster (being struck by lightning; getting cancer; being labeled as retarded) yet Harvie seems indomitable. He may not have had much career success, but he's not short of other interests, ranging from animal liberation to nudism (yes, there's some anatomically correct clay nudity here, in case you're wondering).
The claymation is smooth and well animated; it looks like the little clay people are really alive and moving naturally. While the look is clearly stylized (there's only so much detail you can get with clay) the overall style is naturalistic. Harvie spends most of the film looking rather befuddled, but that's not a limitation of his animation; he's just a befuddled kind of guy, and when the story calls for it, his clay face shows other emotions.
Harvie Krumpet moves briskly along, with enough of an eventful storyline to keep the viewer's attention... not that it's that hard to do, considering that the film is only 23 minutes long anyway. This short film was the winner of the 2003 Academy Award for Best Short Film (Animated), and it's certainly a distinctive and memorable piece. In fact, the charm of its off-beat humor tends to grow on you over time.
It is worth noting that the 72-minute running time listed on the back of the DVD is highly misleading, and seems to have been fabricated by counting the 23-minute running time of Harvie Krumpet twice (by itself and with commentary) and adding in the special features. Cheesy.
Correction: The first version of this review was in error regarding the aspect ratio of Harvie Krumpet (stating that it was 1.33:1 pan-and-scan). In fact, the transfer of Harvie Krumpet that appears on this release presents the film in its original, correct aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The widescreen image is presented in letterbox format, as it is not anamorphically enhanced. The overall appearance of the film is good, with a clean, crisp print and reasonable-looking colors and contrast.
The Dolby 2.0 soundtrack is more than sufficient for the film, as almost the only thing that it has to carry is Geoffrey Rush's voiceover narration. (There are only a few short snippets of character speech.)
One of the main special features on the DVD is a collection of other animated shorts from the same filmmaker. We get "Uncle" (6 minutes), "Cousin" (4 minutes), "Brother" (8 minutes), and "Human Behavioural Case Studies" (1 minute). It's interesting to see how the idea for Harvie Krumpet evidently had its roots in earlier work... but it's also clear that the earlier work is much weaker, so these shorts are worth watching more for aspiring filmmakers than viewers who just want to see interesting pieces. Also of interest to viewers who enjoyed the film is a commentary track from writer/director/animator Adam Elliot. Character model shots are tossed in to round things out.
If you enjoy short animated films, then the distinctive Harvie Krumpet is certainly worth seeing. The (mis)adventures of the titular Harvie are oddly compelling, and surprisingly memorable. While at first I didn't expect this film to have much repeat viewing value, it stuck with me and when I got a chance to watch it again (to confirm that it really does appear in its original widescreen aspect ratio), it was, if anything, more fun than the first time. I'm going to upgrade my rating for this film from a "rent it" to a firm "recommended."