In Residence

What happens when animals do group therapy? Preview the new film by Alison Snowden and David Fine

Here's a sneak peak at Animal Behaviour — the pair's first NFB short since winning the Oscar nearly 25 years ago.

Here's a sneak peak at Animal Behaviour — the pair's first NFB short since winning the Oscar

A scene from "Animal Behaviour," the new film from Oscar-winning duo Alison Snowden and David Fine. (Courtesy of NFB)

A gorilla, a leech and a pig walk into a doctor's office. That sounds like the set-up to a classic dad joke — or a cartoon, as the case may be — and on this week's episode of CBC Arts: Exhibitionists, we're offering a sneak peek at "Animal Behaviour," a new animated short about what happens when all those critters (plus a few more) do a group therapy session.

It's the first short from Alison Snowden and David Fine since the Vancouver-based animators won an Oscar in 1994 for "Bob's Birthday," which begat a primetime animated sitcom featuring the same Seinfeldian couple (Bob and Margaret), which then begat further work in TV. For example, the husband-wife duo created Teletoon show Ricky Sprocket: Showbiz Boy (2007), wrote for Peppa Pig and developed the Shaun the Sheep series (2007-14), based on a character by Nick Park, one of their old school pals from Britain's National Film and Television School.

In the 24-ish years since "Bob's Birthday," they've been "busy as bees" — which are not, in fact, one of the species undergoing treatment in "Animal Behaviour." So why return to making short films?  

In art as in life, Snowden and Fine collaborate in relaying their answer:

"You know," starts Fine, "it sort of occurred to us that we would quite like to do a personal, handmade film again, cause when you're doing series you don't tend to do much actual drawing."

"Or any animation!" adds Snowden. "It's mostly just directing."

"And writing. Lots of writing," says Fine.

"You're creating the characters and stories and everything," Snowden continues, "but it's not so hands-on."

Short films, though — there, they'd have total freedom. The script wouldn't be vetted by committee, they'd get to learn digital tools like the ones the animators on their TV programs had been using — but they, as writers and producers, didn't get to try. (The film was animated using TVPaint.) A run-in with an old friend at the NFB (Michael Fukushima) got the project rolling five years ago.

David Fine and Alison Snowden. (Chad Galloway/Courtesy of NFB)

"I've always been interested in therapy," says Snowden, a fascination that began when she took a confidence-building class at a local community centre. "It's interesting how people respond to it, how different personalities respond to it. So I thought it was an interesting idea for a short film, but I'd just never really come to an actual script."

In "Animal Behaviour," each character is a hallmark of their breed. The gorilla's got anger management issues. The pig's a recovering over-eater. The leech, well, she just can't seem to let things go. Says Fine: "All these things that are very normal for humans, it became very fun to think what would be the best animals to represent that."

Todd the pig, recovering chocoholic. (Courtesy of NFB)

"I was intrigued by what I see as the greater issue in the film," says Fine, "which is should people adapt their personalities to better fit into societal norms or should everybody accept each other for who they are naturally."

"I know people who will say one or the other. They'll either go into self-help, to change who they are, or they'll come out and say, 'You know what, this is how I am. Accept me.'"

"Well, they blame everyone else," adds Snowden, laughing.

"It's about taking responsibility, really, for your own behaviour," she says. "It is one of the messages in the film. And also that it's quite hard to change. It takes some work."

Snowden plays Linda the Cat in "Animal Behaviour." Jokes the filmmaker: "We have a cat, I love cats, so it’s method acting." (Courtesy of the NFB)

"Looking at the news, I remember thinking, 'Why, as a kind of animals, the human species — why do we do the things we do?' There are some crimes or some world situations and you think, 'Why do people do that? Is it something instinctual about survival, or testosterone or whatever?' And that made us think, 'Well, what do animals do? They don't feel too guilty. Is it just something genetic about the way we behave the way we do, as well?' It was kind of exploring all of those thoughts."

"Animal Behaviour" premieres at International Animafest Zagreb (June 4-9) before playing the Annency International Animation Film Festival in France later that month.

These clips are your first look at the film.

Watch!

A look at Alison Snowden and David Fine's new short film. 0:31
A look at Alison Snowden and David Fine's new short film. 0:08
A look at Alison Snowden and David Fine's new short film. 0:13
A look at Alison Snowden and David Fine's new short film. 0:24

Watch CBC Arts: Exhibitionists online or on CBC Television. Tune in Friday night at (1 a.m. NT).

About the Author

Leah Collins

Leah Collins is the Senior Writer at CBC Arts.

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