Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Writer and Director: Marq Evans

Animation may seem like a cosy world, all those cute animals or anthropomorphised food stuffs dancing and singing on screen imply what ought to be a lovely workplace and the chance to create magical stories. But in reality, these companies are a business like any other, one where ruthless decision-making, contested ideation and legal battles for company control are as frequent here as in Silicon Valley’s big tech firms. Welcome to Claydream!

Will Vinton may not be a household name in the UK in the way that Nick Park and Aardman may be, but this wannabe Walt Disney laid the foundations for the contemporary animation system. Outlining his rise to power through the use of stop-motion techniques in the 1970s and 19780s that created some of the most iconic commercials of all time, Claydream is part biography, part examination of the convoluted fortunes of businesses subject to the whims of movie-making fashion.

This 95-minute documentary may make the talking creatures and raisins its star, but it is framed by a legal takeover of Vinton’s company by Nike executive Phil Knight, that ousted the founder after decades of building a successful firm. A brief reference to Pixar shows an interview with Steve Jobs who suffered a similar fate at Apple, but that’s another film. There is a sense of the history of innovation at work in Claydream with product failures and successes as well as the rapid expansion and shrinking of a business in line with its ability to rejuvenate its offering.

But many will be interested in the scandals, of which Claydream has two; the first portion of the film focuses on claims made by Bob Gardiner who developed an early project with Vinton and then left before the company reached the big time, making claims to IP ownership and lost earnings which are tempered with family recollections, interviews and talking head on all sides as well as footage from the film they created together. It works well and while writer-director Marq Evans doesn’t quite pick a side, he certainly showcases the ongoing divisiveness of this company’s creative foundations

The film builds to its second scandal, the filmed court case in which Knight and Vinton go head-to-head, and here Evans clearly has much more sympathy for this protagonist who also appears in interview segments than emphasise the unfairness and possible nepotism that drove Knight’s landgrab. The complicated shareholder detail is impossible to grasp in any detail, but Evans makes clear how raw this became.

Still, there is plenty of celebration too, featuring much of Vinton’s work including the famous raisins campaign and the studio he built so Claydream works hard to explore and restore the legacy of the man who, it argues, laid the groundwork for modern animators.

Claydream is available in the UK from Altitude Film and other digital platforms from 21 November.

The Reviews Hub Score:

Risky business

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The Reviews Hub - Film

The Reviews Hub Film Team is under the editorship of Maryam Philpott.

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