The Guardian’s Tale: fairy-tale conventions upturned in clever sci-fi fantasy short

Gordy Higgins, Ryan Zujic, Christoffer Klungerbo, “The Guardian’s Tale” (2012)

Told as a delightful fairy tale in the style of “Beauty and the Beast”, this animated sci-fi fantasy short made by student film-makers hides a cunning and absurdist twist in its story. Who is the real beauty and who is the real beast? Set on a distant planet, the story concerns a monstrous beast tasked with guarding a powerful treasure in a deserted labyrinthine palace. Many come to steal the treasure and many are torn apart and eaten alive as evidenced by the mounds of skeletons and broken bones in the building. One day a spaceship crash-lands on the planet and out jumps a lone explorer who is revealed as a little girl. The girl and the beast meet, and out of that encounter emerges a most unexpected friendship in which we learn that the beast has been lonely and beneath its grim and terrifying exterior beats a gentle heart yearning for companionship.

The story is told in verse by unseen narrator Adam Behr and the animation suits the fairy-tale structure of the plot and its characters. Exaggeration is used to reveal character and to push the plot and the lessons it teaches. Too late the monster itself learns that looks can be deceiving in a conclusion that will shock viewers. This definitely is not a cartoon for children!

The short film will surely have viewers ruefully grinning at how the student film-makers have manipulated various animation conventions including plot and character stereotypes to dupe them – but then, if there are only two characters in the seven-minute film, how else could it have ended except with a horrific twist that, on reflection, makes logical (if absurdist) sense? It is a very clever piece of story-telling and film-making.