Writers: Tosca Menten and Fiona van Heemstra
Director: Mascha Halberstad
Aardman animation has taught the world a great deal about the importance of scale in its moviemaking, the value of focusing on the ordinary, everyday, even the mundane in its storytelling to create a truly universal appeal. Mascha Halberstad’s Dutch-language debut film showing at the Fragments Film Festival has taken all of that onboard with Oink which, like Wallace and Gromit’s big screen feature, looks to local food competition for drama, personality and bundles of charm in this tale of a naughty piglet and champion sausages.
When Babs’ American grandpa reappears in the lives of her family, Babs is the only one who is pleased to see him, particularly when he presents her with a piglet for her birthday. Soon Oink is creating chaos, ruining mum’s vegetable patch and pooping all over the house. With strict instructions to train him or face a return to the farm, Babs and Grandpa try to save Oink, but do they both have the same purpose in mind for their piglet?
Written by Tosca Menten and Fiona van Heemstra, this 70-minute film is an absolute delight for young (and not so young) viewers who will adore the beautiful stop-motion animation and the deeply relatable world that Halberstad has created. Taking a child’s-eye perspective – that of Babs and her friend Tijn – gives the scale of domestic drama that is tonally consistent, making small concerns feel like the end of the world, as they would to a child, but also understanding the deep bonds of affection that exists between a child and their pet.
All of this is brilliantly couched in an ancient sausage rivalry with a preamble about a fall-out during a competition 25-years previously that gives Oink its shape and driver. And there is much hilarity to draw from the exaggerated importance of these incidents, the ways in which Halberstad creates character and the clever movement between family, competition and even local media spaces that offers enough jeopardy to keep the scenario afloat. But, importantly, also has acres of empathy for the characters.
Central to this is the non-speaking creation of Oink himself, an adorable if mischievous piglet that is never given too much personification or sentience. Oink may express affection for Babs and learn behavioural techniques, but Halberstad ensures he is always an animal with his own nature and need to be cared for. A long-running poop gag works every time, but the film also has lots to say about the benefits of vegetarianism and eco-living, only it is smartly disguised in butchers fighting over sausages and tractor chases across local farmland.
This is the first stop-motion animation from the Netherland and is visually engrossing in a way that digital forms never can be, and the generation of detailed sets, costume and scenarios is wonderfully realised and expressed. The family home feels cosy and the characters have plenty of depth to them which includes a recognition about the complexities of adult relationships that may make little sense to children. The eventual villain may be a little obvious, but this is the highlight of the Fragments Film Festival, and Oink is proof that the small, everyday experience has plenty of cinema magic and Halberstad’s film deserves a championship trophy.
Oink is screening at the Fragments Film Festival 2023.