Animal Behaviour

Animal Behaviour

The 2019 Academy Award nominated shorts were quite a heavy, serious bunch. Of the five live action films and five documentaries, none had more than the slightest hint of humor. Of the five animated ones, several had some smiles here and there, but really the only one that I would say was primarily a comedy was Animal Behaviour from Canada.

The entire film takes place at a group therapy meeting. The cast consists of animals. The therapist/psychologist/whatever is a dog. The patients are a cat, a bird, a leech, a praying mantis, a pig, and a gorilla.

I got some decent laughs from this one, but in the end I’m not entirely sure what its point is.

At times it seems to be skewering therapy like this in general, just the way that the characters, especially the therapist himself, speak in easily-satirized jargon and such. You know, there’s kind of a Stuart Smalley quality to their interaction.

Or, as a friend suggested to me, maybe the idea is that the animals all act according to their nature (or at least according to our stereotypes of these animals) in spite of the best efforts of the therapist, thereby showing that if we really think therapy is going to change a person’s basic tendencies we’re setting ourselves up for disappointment.

The latter interpretation mostly makes sense in that the animals have the kind of issues we’d expect them to have. (The gorilla has an anger management problem, the cat is obsessive compulsive about cleaning itself, the pig won’t stop eating, the leech panics at any thought of being alone and not being able to attach itself to someone, and the praying mantis has a bad habit of killing and eating her lovers. I didn’t totally get the bird. It has guilt issues over having pushed a sibling out of the nest when they were babies; is that something birds do?) But I’m not sure if they’re given those traits to make this point about the futility of therapy, or just for laughs.

Plus, I don’t know that some of their characteristics—like I mentioned with the bird—fit their stereotypes. For instance, the praying mantis is depicted as being like a superficial teenage girl constantly fiddling with her phone. Does that behavior fit a praying mantis in a way it wouldn’t fit the other animals?

It also felt like maybe some of the characters were underused. Like the cat is barely in it at all. Not that it’s somehow obligatory that every character have the same number of lines or whatever. It might fit the purpose of the film better if some characters have more prominent roles than others. It’s just that I’m not certain if that’s the case here because, like I say, that purpose isn’t very clear to me.

I mean, Animal Behaviour is a fun little film. I liked it more than not. But I just wonder if there’s something more going on with it than what I picked up on.

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