Here’s the Plan, Fernanda Frick’s ambitious 18min short film, is notable for its audacity—the audacity to tell a relationship story about two people who genuinely love each other and work to support each other and their marriage. This is neither a romance about the initial hot and heavy days of the chase and infatuation, nor a heroic adventure about love conquering all. It is instead a remarkably grounded narrative that traverses years of its central couple’s lives and documents the minor sacrifices and changing priorities that cause a shared dream to be deferred. Its originality is in its simple faith that communication and commitment can get partners back on track. No wonder such a fantastical narrative needed to star a dog and a cat instead of humans!
Kidding aside, something about the sweetness of the film and its desire to illustrate a healthy relationship struck me. The film is intimate, centered entirely on the couple as they grow from newlyweds to jaded, detached professionals. When young, they had a passion to start a bakery together, but obstacles presented themselves—the oven broke, their kitchen was too small. The desire for money to ameliorate their situation grew, and as they embarked on professional lives far away from baking, they learned they were good at their new occupations. Work intercedes, and professional growth becomes a larger priority. What was once a means to an end, becomes an end to itself. Despite their fancier clothes and steadily bigger house, their lives are increasingly siloed from one another, and the shared passion they felt is lost. Can they recognize what has happened to them? Can they recover what they once had?
Despite the anthropomorphized leads, the film script could have been live-action, as there is nothing high-concept about the world they inhabit. Live-action would deny us the pleasure of Frick’s art though. The film is pleasingly styled, if somewhat safe. The middlebrow preoccupations of the plot are mirrored in its cute, mainstream design, however to achieve animation on this level, at this length, is quite an accomplishment. Over 32 individuals worked on the project, via a distributed workflow organized online through Slack, and other tools.
Frick and the team are Chilean, yet the voice acting is in English to ensure a larger potential audience. Frick has some knowledge of the potential benefits that can accrue from international recognition, as PunkRobot, a Chilean studio that is prominently credited in the film, is responsible for Historia de un oso, which won the Oscar for best animated short in 2016, becoming the first Latin American winner of the category. The decision to record the dialogue in English has its pluses and a minuses however. While the voice acting is by and large good, it is also cloying, and the saccharine nature of the narrative can be off-putting to audiences at first. We’re used to independent animation being edgy, and so the wholesome sincerity evinced can be obnoxious. Yet the undeniable truth embedded in the character development is refreshing, the unvarnished depiction of a relationship as it could, as it should be, is daring. Frick, via email described her inspiration as a desire to fight against “perpetuating gender stereotypes”, feeling that the majority of onscreen romance “normalizes toxic and bad relationships, making you think ‘maybe that’s how it is’ when it doesn’t have to be.”
The result is a film that I believe will be profoundly moving to audiences that allow themselves to be open to it, especially audiences that are themselves in a committed relationship. The level of recognition they will experience in the trade-offs and compromises that the protagonists engage in is rare in visual entertainment. It is a natural experience when navigating a shared future with a loving partner, and yet it is not a common theme in media of any type, and especially not within animation, which leans heavily towards fantastical narratives.
The film, like Historia de un oso before it, is in the running for an Oscar nomination, and this week will see a flood of high-quality animations seeking to build buzz online during the Academy’s initial voting window, as 70+ qualified films will be narrowed to a 10 film shortlist. Frick has a good partner in this process as Here’s the Plan is the debut film of CB Fest Season 2, an online initiative of the influential animation website Cartoon Brew which will premiere 7 animated shorts over the coming weeks. Short of the Week is partnering with Cartoon Brew to present 3 of those films, but the whole series is worth checking out. Best of luck to Frick with Oscar voting, if you love this work, do your part and share.