Rated: Not Rated
Film Length: 30 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 16x9 Enhanced Widescreen (1.85:1)
Audio: English – Stereo Surround
“Everyone Loves a Hamilton Mattress.”
Hamilton Mattress is a 30-minute extravaganza, featuring brilliant stop-motion animation work, from BBC1 and producer Christopher Moll, who also produced the Oscar®-winning short The Wrong Trousers. The main attraction in this genuinely amusing comedy drama about the importance of inner beauty and friendship, as opposed to material desires, is Sludger the Aardvark. As it so happens, according to the filmmakers, Sludger is “the first aardvark in history to do anything interesting”!
It turns out that Sludger is blessed with an outstanding sense of rhythm, which he has developed from years of pounding the bleak earth of the savannah in search of ants. However, Sludger also has an appreciation for the finer things in life, like nice trousers, so he decides to set out for a place where he can establish a lucrative career with his drumming prowess. After happening upon a talent agent, a crafty caterpillar named Feldwick Hackenbush, Sludger decides that the place to find his fame and fortune is the glamorous, colorful Beak City – a buzzing metropolis inhabited exclusively by birds.
In need of a catchy moniker, Sludger runs across an ad for a Hamilton Mattress, and loves the catch phrase so much, he adopts the name for himself. From this moment forth, he is determined to put the dull life of Sludger the Aardavark behind him, and enjoy a life of luxury as Hamilton Mattress, drummer extraordinaire!!! And why not, since “everyone loves a Hamilton mattress”!
Unfortunately for Hamilton, and his initially not-very-devoted agent, their road to stardom leads them to a flashy nightclub (the Africa Club) run by a seedy parrot named Balustrade. After a series of misadventures in his Africa Club, Balustrade’s devious plans for the talented Aardvark are laid bare. Thus, in the glossy Beak City, where colorful feathers are the definition of beauty for its egocentric citizens, a dull-looking, somewhat slovenly Aardvark struggling to make it big must decide what really matters the most – keeping his identity or becoming something he is not in order to realize his dream of living the good life.
It is obvious that Hamilton Mattress was a labor of love for everyone involved with the two-year process of bringing it to life, and the quality of the final product also bears witness to its high production values. About my only complaint, aside from wishing it was twice as long, is that everything is resolved a hair too quickly. I suppose you can’t fault the filmmakers too much for that though, because Hamilton Mattress was meant to be a half-hour piece. In fact, during the commentary, it is mentioned that to achieve the desired running time, the credits were tacked onto the film’s closing scene.
Does everyone really love a Hamilton Mattress? Well, I know that I do, but it was interesting to learn that this short also garnered more than a few accolades for artistic excellence. Among other things, Hamilton Mattress made history by snapping up the Grand Prix for Best TV Animation Program at the Annecy International Animation Festival during June 2002. This is an impressive achievement, considering it was the first British production ever to accomplish the feat. In addition, Hamilton Mattress was also awarded a British Animation Award for Best Television Special of the year (2001), and the 2002 Jury Prize for Best Animated Film at the Chicago International Film Festival. Witty, emotional, and exciting, this animated fable is chock full of memorable characters, good humor, and some catchy, rhythm-heavy tunes. Better still, this highly entertaining short is a fairly unique experience, in that it is suitable as entertainment for both small tykes and adults alike.
SO, HOW DOES IT LOOK?
Hamilton Mattress is a highly detailed animated short filled with brilliant colors and extremely rich textures, and the anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) transfer reproduces this feast for the eyes spectacularly! Lush, vibrant colors practically leap off the screen, especially once Hamilton reaches Beak City, and blacks are deep and well defined, giving the image a three dimensional appearance. Fine detail is also exceptional, extending well into the background of every scene. Not only does this provide ample evidence of how much care and effort went into the production of Hamilton Mattress, but it gives the environments a very realistic feel.
Another thing that makes the visuals so snazzy is the absence of compression artifacts and edge enhancement, which gives greater clarity to the amazing animation techniques and exquisite imagery in the film. The message in Hamilton Mattress is all about recognizing one’s inner beauty, which can be hard to see, but the gorgeous visual achievement displayed on this disc is readily apparent! Absolutely stunning!!!
WHAT IS THAT NOISE?
Though Hamilton Mattress’ Dolby Digital (stereo) audio track is not quite on par with the breathtaking visuals, this portion of the disc also manages to hold its own. Specifically, dialogue is not only pleasing and easily discernable, but the divergent vocal characterizations of the animals in the film are made plain. Further, micro-dynamic noises, like the pattering of Mr. Hackenbush’s many little feet, jump out at the listener, and music reproduction is handled adeptly overall.
Finally, frequency response is quite good throughout the short, including in the lower registers of the audible spectrum. In simple terms, Hamilton’s righteous drumming is given some subtle support from the subwoofer, although the amount of bass is not copious enough to worry about any paintings being rattled off the wall. All in all, this is a very fine DD stereo tack, and the only thing I really had an issue with was how the vocals were mixed a little low during the closing song.
Feature Length Audio Commentary
Though somewhat screen-specific, this audio commentary by Barry Purves, John Webster, and Chris Moll is worth a listen, as the trio imparts some interesting information about their creative process, and ideas that were left out of the film. Highlights included:
--- The Feldwick Hackenbush character was the most difficult to design, and at one point had clothes.
--- There were only 16 puppets (other than Hamilton and Feldwick), so scenes with a lot of “extras” were quite difficult to film.
--- Initially Barry Purves wanted the film to be shot in black and white, but his idea was met with strenuous objection (thankfully!!!).
The Making of Hamilton Mattress
Among other things, this interesting documentary on the making of Hamilton Mattress features interviews with director Barry Purves, writer John Webster, and producer Chris Moll. Highlights included:
--- Webster revealing that his concept had been around for over 14 years before it was made into a short film.
--- Moll provides a great deal of information about his role as a producer, why they chose stop-motion animation, and even hints at possible sequels.
--- Barry Purves discussing how the script was pared down, and breaks down the nearly two-year process of completing Hamilton Mattress.
Birth of an Aardvark[/i]
In this featurette, John Webster (writer/creator) and Anna Farthing (co-writer) discuss the process of developing this idea, which had been kicking around in Webster’s mind for many years, for the screen. Webster and Farthing are fairly lively, and they offer some interesting insight into the long, laborious journey it took to complete this project.
Perhaps most viewers will be interested in their explanations of the characters’ motivations, and their belief that animated characters are reflections of everyone involved in the process - the director, animators, and voice actors, not one particular person. There is also a mention of how many various ideas the team went through before they were able to get Hamilton into Beak City in a satisfactory manner. All in all, if you enjoy this short, this featurette is certainly worth watching, especially since it does not require an immense investment of time.
Behind The Voices
The voices behind the film’s main characters, namely David Thewlis, William Hootkins, and Henry Goodman discuss their approaches to giving life to animated characters, and their reasons for becoming involved with this project. After a time, some of their statements become redundant, but this featurette is still rather interesting, and it also features plenty of behind-the-scenes footage of the recording sessions for Hamilton’s Mattress.
Trailers for the DVD releases of The Crocodile Hunter, Agent Cody Banks, and Good Boy! are included.
(on a five-point scale)
THE LAST WORD
The animated short, Hamilton Mattress is a creative, touching story that should tickle the funny bones of both children and adults (thanks to the inclusion of some adult-oriented humor). Perhaps it may be a bit too sophisticated for the tiniest tots, but the bold vivid colors, short running time, and amusing puppets may counter-balance that. I must admit to never hearing of this title before it arrived on my doorstep, but I am sure glad it did! May stop-motion animation never be abandoned as an art form!
With regard to this DVD release, MGM’s presentation of Hamilton Mattress is first rate, boasting a spectacular anamorphic transfer, a quality audio track, and a host of mostly worthwhile extras. In terms of extras, it is worth noting that Hamilton Mattress was previously released on DVD in Region 2, with deleted scenes, and at least one additional audio commentary. The inclusion of the deleted scenes from the Region 2 release would have been nice, but the extras that are provided here are not too shabby, especially for such a short film. If you have any interest in stop-motion animation, or would like to see a cute story that makes for good family viewing without being intolerable for adults, pick this one up!!! Highly recommended!!!
March 2nd, 2004