A Trippy Claymation Allegorical Celebration of Mark Twain from 1985

This poster doesn’t even begin to capture the strangeness of this film.

I recently discovered a strange and disturbing video on YouTube depicting Satan, Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer, and Becky Thatcher. The depiction of Satan was powerful and haunting and disturbing. The fallen angel has no head, merely a body that holds up a clay mask with a face upon it that shifts and changes with the mood of the angel behind the mask. Some spirit unseen is pushing up against it from behind, and the ghostly transformations and disturbing voice acting unsettles the viewer. That this depiction is juxtaposed in a familiar claymation style with icons of children’s literature inside some sort of steampunk airship only exacerbates the unease with which this realm exists. The rise of a kingdom, the devil’s destruction of it callously, announcing as it is destroyed the uselessness of mankind, is nothing I’ve seen before in children’s television! This scene is followed by an aged and decrepit Twain playing a pipe organ like the phantom of the opera, and the pipes, themselves, come to life, becoming a choir of voices of madness and pain and the darkness of the soul. This couldn’t be farther from the California Raisins singing about grapevines, though the animation style with the claymation figures, is clearly of the same basic origin.

So, I went and found the film, itself, on Amazon Prime. It was an artifact out of time, a strange escape into a style of animation long lost in this age of computer generated graphics. It begins with a quote from Mark Twain about Halley’s comet, how he was born when the comet arrived and expected to leave with the comet, upon its return to Earth’s visible sky. From there, we see Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn lounging on the river with a frog. They have to go to St. Louis, apparently, because in this fashion Tom can scheme to get upon an airship flying up to a comet, and Becky Thatcher is apparently already there. The children sneak their way upon the airship and join the ride.

The fantastical aeronautic machine is a vehicle of worlds, shaped suspiciously like a human head. Upon this machine, Mark Twain in white welcomes the children to the adventure of a lifetime, while a shadowy Mark Twain in black meanders in the background, ominously. They travel through a series of claymation vignettes, most prominently meditating about Adam and Eve and the true nature of mankind. The devil, as mentioned, has a memorable nightmarish appearance. As the airship journeys ever closer around the world and towards the tradewinds that will blow it up upon the comet, and into the mystery of the unknown.

The claymation is spectacular. A few rough, choppy bits at the beginning give way to a smooth and seamless arthouse vibe far removed from children’s cinema, and the voice acting of the aging Twain, with many lines lifted straight from the old master’s works, is excellent. In the end, we all become stories. And, our stories are the only parts of us that live on among the rivers of time.

Categories: Movies

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