To be up front, The Alchemist’s Letter is a film that wears its heart on its sleeve. Admittedly, that’s somewhat of a euphemism for saying that it’s a bit overly-sentimental. But, really, it’s that sentiment that makes director Carlos Andre Stevens’s film so endearing. Upon watching, there’s no doubt that this is a short that is aiming directly for your heartstrings. And, for the most part it succeeds in its earnest mission, using a beautifully rendered pastiche of visual memories to relate the importance of family and enjoying the time with the ones we love.
The film’s overarching message may not be the most innovative, but the way in which it hits those well-worn narrative beats is quite unique and effective. Stevens uses the visual language of highly polished 3D animation to convey the story. The design work present in this film is astounding as is the lighting and camera-motion. Although the film essentially takes place in only one location, by using the Alchemist’s fascinating machine as a central visual storytelling device, the viewer is transported effortlessly to different places and times. What results is essentially a montage, but it’s a highly effective one—impeccably designed and imbuing the material with just enough depth to form a lump in your throat. It’s perfect for those with short attention spans who just want an immediate injection of “the feels.”
The quality of the production really can’t be denied. As already mentioned, the visuals are incredible—it should come as no surprise that the film was produced by a team of artists from LAIKA, the acclaimed stop motion studio. But, even the voiceover work is on a higher echelon. Carlos Stevens managed to recruit two-time Academy Award nominee John Hurt and up-and-coming star Eloise Webb (Cinderella, The Iron Lady) to lend their talents to the film. The result is a short that will appeal to both festival and online viewers alike.