When Andrew Peterson and Chris Wall began talking about turning the Wingfeather books into an animated series, I remember thinking, Wow, that’s a great idea—but let’s be serious guys…
Two years later, here we are premiering the animated short film (both pilot and proof-of-concept) and it’s everything I hoped it would be and more. The team could have set out to make something simpler, like a Saturday morning cartoon, and while I know they could have managed that, I’d have been disappointed. The simplicity of that kind of animation wouldn’t have lived up to my inner-eye’s picture of the world and the characters, and while it would have been a fine accomplishment, it might have fallen short of its real potential.
On the other hand, they might have chosen to chase the Pixar-style (of animation) with its wildly expensive sheen of cinematic perfection that requires hundreds of people and gazillions of dollars. If that had been their tack the result might have looked like a good try or a noble effort visually, and the story, no matter how good, might have been missed in the comparison.
But part of what makes this film so special is the vision the team has developed and stuck to. It’s neither a cheap cartoon, nor a fully-CGI Pixar-knockoff. It’s something entirely other. And by daring to be different, it becomes something wholly it’s own.
I wasn’t part of the process and Andrew only rarely shared anything with me, so as the final product came together, it was a surprise to discover what they’d been up to. I heard rumblings of wanting to create a new animation process, something that would be more efficient than industry norms, but that would look like a painting set in motion. I’d seen the promotional artwork and assumed it was the same as those “Art of Star Wars” kind of books you see at Barnes & Noble, full of stylistic concepts that are WAY cooler than what makes it into the final film. So I was amazed to see the final animation and discover that the WAY cooler stuff is actually what makes up the entire film here.
I actually stepped through most of the film a frame at a time and marveled at how nearly every one could be framed and hung on your wall. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. I think it falls somewhere along a spectrum between Song of the Sea‘s immaculate compositions and hand-drawn art and The Box Trolls‘ avant garde character designs and stop motion animation.
But if it’s the gorgeous artwork and animation style that draws me in, it’s the film-making and the writing that keeps me in my seat. Those who have read the books will understand better than others just how densely this little 15-min short is packed with character development, world-building, and foreshadowing. That’s a hard thing to pull off, and the film does it effortlessly without sacrificing meaningful character moments or heart or a sense of mystery. It manages to be fun and engaging while conveying an enormous amount of information that the viewer is going to need as the larger story unfolds. I love it. And most of all, I want more. I want to see how these versions of these beloved characters grow and mature as they hurtle toward the ends of their incredible personal story arcs. I want to see how the Green Hollows and Clovenfast and the Ice Prairies translate into this incredible visual medium. The possibilities are so exciting I get a little teared up just thinking about them.
So if you, like me, want to see how the story ends, share the video, send it to your friends, post it on your social media feeds, make the kids sit down and watch it. The more people we can get to want the next episode, the closer to reality it becomes. I know the team is working hard to figure out the next steps, and every time you share it it’s a vote in their favor.
So congratulations to the folks at Shining Isle Productions. You’ve made something amazing. I want more. And I know I’m not the only one.
Pete Peterson is the author of the Revolutionary War adventure The Fiddler’s Gun and its sequel Fiddler’s Green. Among the many strange things he’s been in life are the following: U.S Marine air traffic controller, television editor, art teacher and boatwright at the Florida Sheriffs Boys Ranch, and progenitor of the mysterious Budge-Nuzzard. He lives in Nashville with his wife, Jennifer, where he's the Executive Director of the Rabbit Room and Managing Editor of Rabbit Room Press.