Written by: Adam Vaughn | June 25th, 2021
Claydream (Marq Evans, 2021) 3 out of 4 stars.
As an avid fan of visual effects, I found director Marq Evan’s documentary on the “Father of Claymation” an exciting edition to the Tribeca 2021 lineup. Filled with some of the most magical accomplishments from acclaimed artist Will Vinton, Claydream full embodies Vinton’s humble beginnings as a stop-motion genius, his rise to fame creating “Will Vinton Studios,” and the untimely lawsuit against Nike’s Phil Knight that would destroy Vinton’s career as we know it. As a film, Claydream is highly informative and thought-provoking, yet Evans chooses a pace of storytelling that is not only confusing to the viewer, but does the overall story harm.
Claydream begins marvelously, depicting Vinton’s beginnings with his best friend and former co-partner Bob Gardiner, whom Vinton credits as another true genius in the art of clay animation. Dozens upon dozens of inspiring, fun and creative samples of their work flood the screen, and the viewer is taken to a truly magical place. By itself, the timeline of Vinton’s achievements – filled with several collaborations with artists like Michael Jackson and Eddie Murphy – are fully showcased in Claydream, which offers true nostalgia for viewers who recall the art form in its prime during the late-1980s and ‘90s. For me, this was all new information about a fascinating “old school” animation technique (still used today in films such as Coraline and ParaNorman, to name but a few).
Where Claydream started to lose me is in its abrupt transitions in and out of the lawsuit between Vinton and Knight, the owner of Nike and the soon-to-be owner of Vinton’s studio, which would later be renamed “Laika Studios.” In the middle of the rest of Vinton’s story – including his old friend’s suicide and studio troubles – we are constantly flashed forward with a lawsuit that feels out of place. True, it is the inevitable end of Vinton’s story (and career), and his tragic downfall, but its inclusion through the duration of the film makes it distracting and, often, distorts the mood during any particular time in the documentary. By the time we reach the actual events in the story, this otherwise shocking and saddening narrative plot point comes across with no surprise, having weighed down what came before.
The true beauty of Claydream comes from both the artistic and personal life of Vinton, and the popular and private creations that embody his career as the essential inventor of “claymation” as a practice. While all the key components of making this story come to life are present in the film, director Evans’ insistence on adding too much “courtroom drama” tends to feel out of place. The outcome is a film that, while still magnificent in content and visual appeal, loses points for its structure and execution.