Juanjo Guarnido's "Freak of the Week": Review

Most people know the Spanish former Disney animator Juanjo Guarnido for his incredible artwork on the colorful anthropomorphic detective series Blacksad (see above) released here in the US by Dark Horse. But I was not aware of the incredible fan art he has created honoring the Swedish alternative rock band, Freak Kitchen! I fell down a YouTube hole recently that lead to me to find this music video from the 2014 album "Cooking With Pagans", which Guarnido created album art for as well as animated an entire music video.

What a shock to find that the same deft hands that brought us the soft-hearted hits Hercules, Tarzan, Atlantis, and the Hunchback of Notre Dame had recently turned to a Swedish metal band's rock anthem about self-mutilation and self-commidification! He ran a whopping $140,000 kickstarter campaign to fund the project, which he drew mostly by hand using the popular French animation software, TVPaint. Luckily for us, we can now buy an art book called "Juanjo Guarnido's Freaky Project" detailing the whole thing. But first, take a look at the video below:

While I have to admit the music is not my cup of tea, the visual style is downright incredible. Not only is the movement smooth and natural, each character is wildly expressive, stylized, and unique. The comportment of each of the figures takes into account the rapport between bandmates and treats each instruments as an extension of the character. Not only is Guarnido completely tuned in to each of these characters as people in terms of knowing their personalities and musical attributes, he also has totally captured their over-the-top performance style. This attention to detail and understanding of his subject truly speaks to Guarnido's experiences as a super fan as well as an attentive animator. Not only does Freak Kitchen come off as cool and a bit crazy, they are drawn with such nuance you can't help but gawk at them, which lends the video a healthy dose of irony given the song's lyrical content. Guarnido definitely hit a home run in terms of matching the theme of the song with the content of his drawings, and shows the band in a very favorable light. Even if I'm not enthusiastic about the song, he certainly brings it to life in a way that I can't help but enjoy.

I do, unfortunately, have some gripes about certain aesthetic features that take away from the overall effect of the short film. Namely, that the 3D-modeled CGI elements as well as the found footage of old-timey freak shows detract from the beauty of the 2D animation. The black and white scenes cut in at seemingly unrelated moments in the narrative, as if they were dropped in as-needed for filler to bridge the gaps between the truly inspired animated sequences. I was particularly hornswoggled by the CGI segments, since they were so stylistically jarring, I got completely pulled out of the narrative. If we take a look at other CGI films created around the same time (the Lego Movie, Big Hero 6) we can only chalk up this inconsistency to the fact that Guarnido's expertise with that type of animation is circa Atlantis (2001), which is truly a shame. The sad fact is the usage of CGI makes the work look dated. If only the short were more stylistically integrated, and the live action filler scenes edited in a way that made more sense, this really would've been a ten out of ten.

While I won't write home to grandma about this music video, mostly due to the staggeringly unfortunate genre it celebrates, I would count this as one of the best animated music videos of all time. It hearkens back to a previous era of hand-drawn animation where every character was lovingly rendered by a seasoned hand that truly mastered the craft from hours of hitting the drawing table. That sheer talent alone makes me continue to daydream of detailed hair flips and teeth-gritting guitar solos long after the video ends, humming the tune in spite of myself.

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