Short Film Review: Canuck Black.
A noir murder mystery where the main suspect is a black bear, Canuck Black shows visual flair but also glaring weaknesses.
It can be hard to keep pace with the world of short films. With the exception of the yearly Oscar Nominated Short Films, very few shorts get a screening outside of niche film festivals. The result of this is that while the supply of short films on services like Viddsee and ShortoftheWeek.com is plentiful, staying on top of films while they are hot is maddeningly hard. Such is the case with Canuck Black, a stop-motion crime film out of the UK that made some waves in 2014.
Having tracked this elusive bear in the wild, I admit I can see why it was nominated for several awards: it has a striking mix of visual elements and a comedic tone hiding dark themes. Having watched Canuck Black, I can also see why it didn’t wind up taking home many of those awards: the film suffers from some noticeable flaws in its dialogue and delivery.
Canuck Black (2014)
Two police detectives interrogate their only suspect in the homicide of a sports hunter: a talking black bear named Canuck Black who was raised by the missing man since he was a cub.
Canuck Black does a fantastic job of blending several visuals styles together to great effect. The police station is drab and realistic, making the presence of a talking, stop-motion bear both comedic and disorienting. As the two officers try to wring a confession out of the well-mannered and folksy bear, Canuck Black lapses into remembrances of his youth, done in a paint on glass style of animation. The juxtaposition of realism, model work and animation help to create atmosphere and tone that is shifted for emotional and story-telling effect by director Rebecca Archer.
The problems with Canuck Black surface as soon as the interrogation begins. The dialogue is a mix of over-boiled cop cliches from the detectives and “gosh and golly” avuncular posturing from Canuck Black. The canned script is not helped by some rather pedestrian voice acting. There are a few moments that shine through, such as when the cops finally get the bear to show a flash of anger that betrays his bestial nature, but you have to sit through quite a bit of boiler-plate cop-talk to get to the good parts. The one-note nature of the cops also robs the crime drama of its teeth and makes the all-too-predictable twist at the end feel compulsory.
Canuck Black does the technical aspects of its craft quite well, which makes the sub-standard dialogue into a bigger disappointment than you would expect. As there is no dialogue in the flash backs, you get a fleeting glimpse of how much more gripping the story could have been, and how much more impactful the ending had the dialogue been up to snuff. I’d say that fans of stop-motion and mixed media will probably appreciate the film for its achievements and ignore the failings, but those just looking for an odd noir story will see through this bear’s act well before the ten minutes of run-time are up.