‘I Met the Walrus’ by Josh Raskin

I Met the Walrus’ is the animated extension of an extraordinary interview that took place in 1969. A fourteen-year-old Jerry Levitan, armed with a reel-to-reel tape machine, snuck into John Lennon’s hotel room in Toronto. The ‘Beatle’ rewarded the teenager’s pluckiness with an interview that contains the distillation of the musician’s message of peaceful protest. Thirty-eight years later Levitan adopted the role of producer on this short animated documentary, providing his original recording as the source material. The teenager’s naïve interview style, along with the kind authority with which Lennon imparts his wisdom, constructs a wonderful sub-narrative; the dynamic of master and student.

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The director and animator, Josh Raskin, expands on Lennon’s words with a stream of images that complement the verbal content. The camera manoeuvres around a constantly developing two-dimensional graphic field, new images sprouting out from the previous area of focus. Much of the imagery correlates directly to phrases they depict, but on occasion this deviates from literal representation. For instance, when discussing how one could combat the establishment of a nation suppressing its people, Lennon states: “…the only thing they [the establishment] don’t know about is non-violence and humour.” The moment the last word of this sentence is uttered an illustration of a humerus bone bounds on to the screen. The pun behind this visual/verbal collision is instantly absorbed while echoing the point that comedy can be powerful and elegant.

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This animation is littered with carefully thought out imagery that strikes a balance between augmenting Lennon’s words without distracting from them. The pace at which pictorial components are introduced is strangely rhythmic. Such a mesmeric stream of audio-visual information allows little room for the viewer’s mind to drift.

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James Braithwaite provides the distinctive plethora of pen illustrations. Influence from William Heath Robinson’s eccentric machines can be detected in Braithwaite’s retro style. The turn of the century artist drafted impractically complex and counter intuitive industrial activities. A comparable wit and tension is notable throughout ‘I Met the Walrus’.

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Alex Kurina is credited as a computer illustrator. This new media artist is likely to be responsible for the modern edge that acts as a counterpoint to Braithwaite’s traditional pen drawings.

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Although the division of labour between Raskin, Braithwaite and Kurina is not entirely clear, what can be said for certain is that the team have created a rich visual language that balances past and present. Traditional forms of illustration help conjure nostalgia for the era. These are subtly contrasted with modern pink graphic components, along with snappy swivelling camera motions. For five minutes this film evokes the excitement felt by a teenage boy as his hero indulged his enthusiasm. ‘I Met the Walrus’ has won all manner of international animation awards, received over two and a half million views on YouTube and was Oscar nominated for best animated short film in 2008.

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