The title itself echoes the very dichotomies at the heart of the animation — Tux and Fanny; abstract and clear; elaborate and simplistic. Albert Birney’s online animated series, compiled together into an 82-minute splash, takes a simple MS-paint-minimal tape-glitched universe and slowly but steadily extends these boundaries both creatively and thematically. While stuck within the limits of its square Instagram framing, the animation is far from choked by its own border.
Disparately related events follow one after the other, and in the intoxicating mess, the semblance of a trajectory appears. Its Katamari-ball path collects every fragment and oddity it can along the way, bundling into an entanglement of marvellous quirks and inspired digital imagery. It takes both comfort and fear from absurdity — Tux and Fanny find themselves in ludicrous situations, often tinged with troubling existential consequences, which are solved be equally ludicrous, but often empathetic, solutions. When lightning strikes their house, Fanny is sucked into the computer and entrapped into an asymmetrical text-based landscape and then lured into the heart of an evil digital box. Tux, in an effort to save Fanny, takes the computer outside and attaches a coat-hanger to it to attract the lightning. Once struck, the computer explodes and Fanny is freed. Fanny remains plagued by hallucinations afterwards, often seeing spinning digital cubes where heads should be — Tux comforts Fanny by talking about it.
Digital text-based imagery is but one of the many aesthetic divergences the series investigates — there is beauty in its willingness to contrast the minimalist pixelated start-point with claymation, watercolours, Svankmajer-esque stop-motion, stark CGI rendering, and real-life surrealist performance. Come the end of the series, Tux and Fanny sit by the shoreline and wax lyrical about the existence of alternate realities. In response, the film treats us to a vast fast-paced bricolage of unique re-configurations of the same scene — pastel, plasticine, drawn paper collage, reductionist linear patterns, scrapbook assemblages, pop-comic cartoon, mid-00s Newgrounds-style, quasi-Vaporwave rendering, crude children’s sketch, outsider art. My favourite amongst the flashes being this wonderful picture:
And yet with all this, most of these explorations never feel vapid or quirk-for-quirks-sake. Tux’s claymation substitute is rightfully awkward against the straight pixels, so glaringly out-of-place that it becomes a disturbing evocation of the pang of loss. When Tux and Fanny end up eating psychedelic mushrooms out of sheer hunger, the pixel art detaches itself from its own rigorous grid system — the tight quadrilaterals of the pixel-art warp, shake, and bend. Before entering the woods to find their lost cat Sasha, the world is reimagined as an off-kilter environment of train-set bushes, tree bark, toy animals, and cellophane rivers. Even within the limits of the original pixel-art rendering, Tux’s poetic observations are paired with moments of sublime simplicity — the movement of embers rising from the fire, the effervescence of fireflies, a leaf falling from a potted plant, the foetal innocence of an orphaned mouse. The meta-creativity at work is admittedly overwhelming — at times, we must ask ourselves where Albert Birney’s creative empathy ends and where flecks of self-indulgence begin — yet Tux and Fanny always maintains enough fresh ideas that we never quite want it to stop. It happily concludes how it both began and stayed throughout — content and at peace with absurdity; willing to let questions remain unanswered and to accept that ebb-and-flow. At this moment, I am reminded of Don Hertzfeldt’s It’s Such a Beautiful Day — both pieces wildly undeterred by the limits of its medium, celebratory of the power of the image, and representing a creative spirit abound with wonderfully chaotic sensitivity.
END NOTE: I was introduced to this series through Richard Brody’s review — thank the Lord for critics uncovering gems like this.