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Luckily, the accompanying book makes up for the shortcomings of the film.

Book Review: Moongirl by Henry Selick

Moongirl has a significant built-in curiosity factor due to the involvement of its creator, Henry Selick. As animation buffs know, Selick gained permanent fame as the director of the stop-motion classic, The Nightmare Before Christmas, as well as the less successful James and the Giant Peach and box office bomb Monkeybone. In recent years, he seemed to drop from sight except for his involvement in creating the animated sea creatures used in The Life Aquatic. Now he has resurfaced with a unique project combining an original DVD animated short with a lavishly illustrated children’s book.

Selick developed Moongirl as the animated short presented here, and the big surprise is that it’s entirely computer-generated, not stop-motion. He’s worked in CGI before, but he’ll always be most closely associated with stop-motion animation, so Selick fans might be thrown for a loop at first. The initial surprise quickly gives way to wonder as the story takes over, leading viewers on an enchanting tale.

The short recounts the story of a young country boy spending an idyllic evening fishing on his lake until the moon suddenly goes dark. He’s magically whisked away on a fantastic trip to the moon, where he meets a mysterious young girl and learns the secret of how the moon gets its light. Along the way, he battles an evil force with the help of his pet squirrel and learns that he has a greater role in life than he ever expected.

While the short tells the simple tale well, its presentation is underwhelming, coming from such a noted creator. The CGI is passable, but there’s nothing special to set it apart from the works of any other competent animator. It seems like little more than a trial run of his production team’s abilities, although it has garnered a sizeable list of film festival awards. Selick has moved on from this to a full-length adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline, so it’s hopeful that his team gained valuable insight during the short’s production.

Luckily, the accompanying book makes up for the shortcomings of the film. The illustrations for the book are handled by Peter Chan and Courtney Booker, who also worked on the original short. Rather than just taking screen captures from the film, the artists recreated key scenes from scratch for the book, an admirable decision that led to an elegant finished product with far longer potential shelf life than the film.

Chan handled the drawing duties for the book, while Booker added the lush finishing touches as the digital colorist. The switch from animation to static imagery allows readers to linger over the fantastic images at their leisure, adding greater impact to the story.

Selick’s writing works well in the children’s book format, assuring a pleasant bedtime story experience for young children and their parents. The plot of the book doesn’t impart any tangible life lessons, but it’s sweet and innocent fare that will let both children and parents sleep easy after storytime.

Together, the DVD and book make an intriguing package deal that results in the DVD gaining distribution through the publishing industry instead of languishing in a studio vault. At less than 10 minutes in length, the short likely had no other viable distribution method to the mass market, so Candlewick Press is to be commended for their innovative approach.

The short may not be the greatest, but completists and fans of Selick now have an easy way to catch up with his latest animated work. However, the real prize of the package is the book, presented in a large hardcover edition that fits in well with the sizes of other children’s picture books. The book makes this package worth the purchase and is likely to be a treasured keepsake for many years to come.

Written by Caballero Oscuro 

About Gordon S. Miller

Gordon S. Miller is the artist formerly known as El Bicho, the nom de plume he used when he first began reviewing movies online for The Masked Movie Snobs in 2003. Before the year was out, he became that site's publisher. Over the years, he has also contributed to a number of other sites as a writer and editor, such as FilmRadar, Film School Rejects, High Def Digest, and Blogcritics. He is the Publisher of Cinema Sentries. Some of his random thoughts can be found at twitter.com/ElBicho_CS

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