A few years before he died, Graham Chapman recorded a a kind of audiobook detailing some of his experiences embellished with flights of pure whimsy. Now, in 2012, these recordings have enabled Chapman to become the star of a new animated feature attempting to bring some of his story to the big screen. Starting with an audio clip of Chapman asking for his thirty seconds of abuse, it then moves to a sort of framing device in which he forgets his lines on broadway, promptly collapses and hits his head provoking a surreal odyssey through his life so far. Boasting three director credits (one of whom being Bill Jones – son of Terry) and the work of fourteen different animation studios the film uses many different animation styles and techniques.
It is perhaps a matter of aesthetic taste but some of the animation styles serve their subject matter better than others. The seeming lack of motivation for the switching between styles lends the film an episodic felling which prevents it gaining any real traction and is often more of a distraction than something that brings any kind of artistic contribution. Undoubtedly, much of the animation is good, solid work but taken as a whole it fails to come together in any meaningful way.
It also doesn’t really help that it ends up being fairly light on the autobiographical detail so that anyone with even a cursory interest in all things Python or even just having been raised in the UK over the past thirty years isn’t going to hear anything they didn’t know already. Even the darker elements of Chapman’s life are glossed over in an ‘all jolly good fun, ho ho ho’ sort of way rather than engaged with any kind of insight.
Thirdly, it really just feels as if it’s trying way too hard. Unfortunately it misses the effortless silliness of Monty Python that’s the best example of English whimsy and winds up feeling by turns juvenile and laboured. Crushingly, it’s sometimes as if the animation seems superfluous where Chapman’s voice alone might have done the job better as the animation just isn’t really adding anything into the mix. Slightly gimmicky things like casting Cameron Diaz as the voice of Sigmund Freud initially scream ‘genius!’ but prove too on the nose and collapse under the weight of their own absurdity.
That’s not to say it’s a total disaster – it is moderately enjoyable and at times quite funny, just not quite as much as it seems to think it is. It felt very much like the sort of of British grown up animation that was commoner in the ’90s but forced into the biopics mode that’s really popular with BBC4. Possibly, it may have worked better on the small screen in one of the lighter documentary spots but as a big screen experience it fails as either a documentary or an entertainment film. Diverting rather than a must see.
At the European gala screening we were treated to a few actors playing various Graham Chapman roles such as King Arthur/Brian beforehand and a pop up (literarily) performance from the London Gay Men’s choir during the film’s musical interlude. Something of a curate’s egg but worth seeing.