Review of Catya Plate’s Meeting MacGuffin

Developmentally Edited by Alexandra Hidalgo
Copy Edited and Posted by Megan Elias

Meeting MacGuffin (2017). 9 minutes, 58 seconds. Directed, written and animated by Catya Plate. Featuring Richard Steven Horvitz, Misty Lee and John McBride.

Meeting MacGuffin is the second short in Catya Plate’s animated ecological thriller trilogy.  As viewers of this stop motion film, we are immediately and completely submerged from the first frame to the final into her remarkably peculiar world of rag and wire doll scientists, climatologist groundhogs, and somehow attractive talking Lost and Found signs. By choosing stop motion animation, Plate has created a three-dimensional cast of colorful, beguiling characters. The dolls are made in such detail and deformed splendor that we follow them unquestioningly on their mission to recreate the lost human beings that once roamed the earth.

With a superbly concise recap of the first film narrated by a bespoke-suited rooster with a megaphone, we are tossed immediately and directly into her new, unique, and morbidly hypnotizing world. We are left to ogle the peculiar, wire-like Clothespin Freaks as they scour and collect what is left of the human race — scattered pieces of brains, pelvises, and feet. The creatures wire together the human body parts to the best of their ability, creating dangly, insufficient alternate forms of beings called Homeys.

Plate’s expert use of time and dialogue gives us exactly what we need with no superfluous details in the storytelling to distract us from her film’s critical meaning. She allows her message and the warped animation to distill on screen, stirring a mix of curious and opposing emotions inside us. What the filmmaker intends to say is evident throughout this almost ten-minute short.  Her message is on point at all times, never wavering off-script or off-meaning; always forcing us to be aware of the theme: humans are self destructive.

That message is clear: it is our own actions that will lead to the demise of the human race. The end of us is our own fault. In Plate’s world, humans overpopulated the earth. Humans fought over finite resources, specifically water. Humans made no sensible plans for after the draining of Earth’s most vital resource. So, the human race dried up, died out and then, literally, fell into pieces.

Unlike the popular dystopian-themed stories re-popularized over the last few years, like George Orwell’s 1984 and Margaret Atwood’s A Handmade’s Tale, where the humans are overpowered by an oppressive government, Plate’s Meeting MacGuffin places the blame solely on us as individuals.  Like the aforementioned classics, however, Plate’s protagonists, the Clothespin Freaks, must rebuild a depressed and despotic society that is not of their making. They are left with the task of resurrecting the very humans that created this mess after it was explained to them that human beings are needed to restore balance to our world but only if they are less selfish.

Plate always allows us the time to soak in her vital message as we gawk at the riveting animation, where the characters’ spasmodic movements create opposing feelings of tension and endearment. Plate also chooses not to assign gender to either her Clothespin Freaks or Homeys, forecasting perhaps, a genderless future society for her third film. Whether this is her intention one can only guess, but this decision is a reassuring inkling into her mind. As mentioned, she breathes life into her characters by using the stop motion method of animation, done by capturing the object one frame at a time, moving it in increments while filming one frame per increment. It’s one of the most tedious formats of filmmaking available, requiring hours to set up a simple one-minute shot. It is a decision that must be praised. Plate has chosen this type of filmmaking, which leads to a mesmerizing, deformed reality that underlies her apocalyptic message. The convulsive motions of the animated figures and their eerily beautiful appearance are instrumental in retaining in our subconscious the foreboding and dire time in which we are living. It juxtaposes the doom and the hope that flows as the undercurrent theme of the film. The inspired dedication and patience that’s poured into this process welcomes her into a special coterie of filmmakers that includes Wes Anderson (Isle of Dogs), Nick Park (Wallace and Gromit) and Tim Burton (Nightmare Before Christmas), among other greats. The result is a hauntingly attractive world full of sorrowful, strange, and empathetic creatures whose colorful voodoo doll-like appearance provide the film with an eerily attractive and comical personality.

The misshapen Clothespin Freaks go on the search for more body parts in order to build a more dimensional human being. A Lost and Found sign leads them to a climate expert and out-of-the box-thinking groundhog. Groundhogs as a species have been studying humans and foresaw the perilous future into which they were digging themselves. They were, over the foretelling years, been stockpiling resources that have dribbled into their tunnels as runoff. Upon arriving at the wise groundhog and climatologist Gormel MacGuffin’s lair, the Clothespin Freaks search for the crucial remaining body parts (skin, hair, organs) to create a more complete Homey that can hopefully restore balance to a decimated planet.

Bringing life to Gormal MacGuffin is Richard Steven Horvitz who voices a wise and likable climatologist groundhog. Misty Lee lends the Lost and Found sign a friendly and happy tone that is crucial to our enjoyment of this end-of-the-world story. All of the voice actors are perfectly cast into their characters. The sound design (by Studio Unknown) brilliantly emphasizes the film’s cautionary sentiment: comical yet collaborative-minded and hopeful. The sound effects are quirky and lifelike, paying homage to 1960s sci-fi television, somehow making the noise of a character spitting or a scissor snip sound cartoonish and fun. The score, composed by Zac Zinger for Unleaded Music is an intriguing mix of comic and thriller, bringing more depth and nuance to the scenes such as when the Homeys receive vital organs or when the team decides to go on its mission to the groundhog lair.

Plate is a shrewd animator and storyteller who creates a world so unlike our own but so relatable. Her landscapes are foreboding, her characters fun, and her message is of ecological importance. None of it is lost in her filmmaking. She is capable, efficient, and talented in creating this visual opulent beauty and evoking emotion throughout, rarely hammering her message too heavily. The animation ability of Plate will over time become more fluid, as some scenes did reveal a bit of wonkiness, but she should be commended on her extraordinary abilities thus far.  Although some editing could have been smoothed out and the dialogue at the end a little less heavy on the preaching of the message, it may also fall on the side of necessity if this film were to focus on a child-aged audience. This film warrants a few viewings to absorb all the visual delights Plate has created for us in the immaculately detailed corners of her world’s landscape.

What does the future hold for a people cursed with selfishness, greed, apathy, and complete disregard for the fragile planet they call home?  Post-apocalyptic stories, as a definition of their genre, are created by writers with minds clogged with these questions as they attempt to answer them for us, leaving us with warnings of where our actions, as destructive humans, will lead.  

The animated ecological thriller Meeting MacGuffin is a horror story where we are our own monsters, killing ourselves, our friends, our neighbors, and our own humanity slowly with our own ignorance.  It warns us about the fall of civilizations, and, more importantly, the fall of humankind. And it begs the unanswered question of “why rebuild a race that is doomed to fail again?” For that, we must wait anxiously and with enthusiasm for the third installment of this brilliant filmmaker’s trilogy.

You can learn more about Meeting MacGuffin on the film’s website, Facebook, on Wikipedia, and can watch the trailer on Vimeo. To see what else Catya Plate has done, take a look at her profile, website, Twitter, and Instagram. Learn more about Denise by visiting her profile.