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Film Review: Away (2020)

Director: Gints Zilbalodis
Writer: Gints Zilbalodis

Synopsis: A boy and a little bird are on a journey across a strange island trying to get back home.

Before I get fully into this review, I want to point out something that I was told before I watched this film. This feature-length animated film was directed, written, animated, and scored completely by Gints Zilbalodis. When the titles roll at the end of the film, he is the only person credited on this film. For any form of animation, let alone a feature-length film of this standard, that is impressive and deserves all the credit that he is getting for bringing his vision to life.

I am not simply going to credit him though because of that, this is genuinely a fantastic animated film even without that knowledge. I can be hesitant to hear that a 70-minute film is going to have no dialogue, but this story does not need dialogue to drive the journey forward. Instead, Zilbalodis brings these two particular characters – the boy and the little bird – as they go on a journey that is exciting to watch and filled with so many wonderful moments along the way.

Animation is a lot of hard work to get right and to master the craft, and Zilbalodis gives himself a hard task of not only animating these two lead characters to be able to emote without the use of dialogue, but to also create the expansive world that they explore. Whilst the design of the animation can be simple and rough at moments, it does not take away from the pure beauty of a large majority of these sequences. You simply have to look at the screenshot at the top of the review to see how beautiful this is – especially for a one-person team to animate.

It is not only these two characters that Zilbalodis includes, but a villain in the form of a large, black monster that will swallow its victims. Not only is this character design incredibly fun, but we also get to see the real threat he poses. This adds to the narrative, giving our lead characters something to run from and builds tension throughout. One sequence in particular, the bridge scene, might be my favourite from the film because of the tension, the animation, and the character development that all happens within it.

It could have been easy when first planning this project to make it short and keep it as a nice, simple project to work on. However, Zilbalodis creates a story that is so riveting that you can’t help but enjoy it throughout the entire runtime. Even in the moments where not much happens narratively and the characters are staying in one location, Zilbalodis uses this time to instead show off some animation techniques and further bring the world to life.

Gints Zilbalodis has what is one of the best debuts of a film I have seen in years, and not just because the film is as good as something Studio Ghibli or Pixar can achieve. It is a debut that shows off not only his animation skill, but his ability to compose music for screen, his ability to edit and write films, and his ability to direct a beautiful story. Whilst I can only imagine what this vision to life with a bit of polishing of the animation or with a few bits of dialogue throughout, it is simply charming and one of the best animated films of 2020.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Away will be available to watch on PVOD in the UK on January 18th 2021.

Apple TV | iTunes

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