Review by C.J. Bunce
You may not know it, but you probably first met them in their record-breaking music video that they pulled together in only two weeks for Peter Gabriel’s song, Sledgehammer. It’s a story of two teenagers borrowing mom’s old kitchen table to use to film their Plasticine creations. Flash forward a few years and their multiple Oscar-winning company is negotiating for big-budget real estate for their movie studio. The company is Aardman Animations, named for the star character of their earliest film. And the founders are Peter Lord and David Sproxton, who have documented their journey in this year’s latest chronicle of the history of animation, A Grand Success! The Aardman Journey, One Frame at a Time, now available from Abrams Press.
It’s not just a biography of the two boys who would see their company bring home four Oscars and even more nominations and BAFTAs. A Grand Success! (the title a play on their first Oscar-nominated adventure, A Grand Day Out) is a time capsule of those key intersections of effort, skill, perseverance, and happenstance, that can make any endeavor a success. The efforts of the small British upstart found their footing in both the worlds of fantasy film and advertising. One put the food on the table until, like many creators, they could focus on their passions. And although they didn’t sever their ties with commercial work, they created what are now among the most recognized characters in England and the world outside the United States (and their U.S. following isn’t too bad, either). Before long their ideas had them sealing big deals with the likes of Jeffrey Katzenberg and Steven Spielberg, and having actors from Ralph Fiennes, Helena Bonham Carter, Hugh Grant, Eddie Redmayne, Maisie Williams, and Tom Hiddleston–the cream of Britain’s acting talent– providing the voices of their characters.
Lord and Sproxton pull in two other key players in their look at Aardman’s history, animators Nick Park and Richard “Golly” Goleszowski. Park grew up as a fan of Aardman’s films as a kid, and by 1989, when he was only 31, he was attending Oscar parties as the face of the studio. All four would create iconic characters from Wallace & Gromit, Shaun the Sheep, and the anthropomorphic “very British” animals of Creature Comforts.
The creators provide an eye-witness account of each step that moved them closer to creating works known best in England, but their creations would ultimately have an appeal outside of the country, and inadvertently spread British comedy to new audiences along the way.
Readers will see the entire rollercoaster ride, from Adam to Wallace & Gromit in the trio of short films A Grand Day Out, The Wrong Trousers (thought by many animators to be one of the greatest of all animated films), and A Close Shave, to a look at everyday life via animals in the series Creature Comforts, to the big budget Chicken Run, Curse of the Were-Rabbit, plus the lovable break-out character who would get his own series in Shaun the Sheep, Arthur Christmas, and The Pirates! Band of Misfits, right up to last year’s send-up of British sports, Early Man (reviewed here at borg). Tangent paths took the creators to work on Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, Kimberly-Clark product commercials, and BBC projects, before hitting it off with DreamWorks and getting an audience with the Queen.
Both The Simpsons’ creator Matt Groening and Nick Park provided introductions to the book. It also includes a small center insert section featuring a few photographs of the Aardman team over the years. Available now in a hardcover edition and highly recommended for all fans of animation, film, and the creative spark, A Grand Success! The Aardman Journey, One Frame at a Time is available for order here at Amazon.