Before Monty Python’s Graham Chapman died in 1989 he recited his book, A Liar’s Autobiography, an act that has allowed him to star posthumously in a 3D animated biopic of the same name.
‘This is not a Monty Python film, it’s a Graham Chapman film,’ we were reminded at the screening, but the film’s directors at Bill and Ben Productions have called on Pythons John Cleese, Terry Jones, Michael Palin and Terry Gilliam to play themselves and other characters, so it still has a Python feel.
‘Graham was openly gay and secretly alcoholic and his life had many ups and downs,’ according to production notes.
The film then is a light-hearted, often funny and sometimes quite moving romp succinctly captured in the film’s synopsis:
‘He was born, he went to Cambridge and met John Cleese, he smoked a pipe, he became a doctor, he became a Python, he decided he was gay (well, 70/30, according to a survey he did on himself), he got drunk a lot, he stopped being drunk, he made some films, he had some sex (actually, a lot), and moved to Los Angeles. Finally, he was whisked up into space by aliens (although that might have been in a film).’
The idea is quite a wonderful conceit; the pre-recorded memoirs of a dead man who gets to perform his biography 23 years after his death, but it’s the 14 separate animation studios which breath life into the project.
These studios have worked in 17 styles which are completely and unapologetically different, and although this sounds quite chaotic it really works.
We particularly liked the work by Superfad, Made Visual Studio, Mr & Mrs Smith, Steven Lall, Trunk, A for Animation, and Tundra.
The directors Bill Jones and Ben Timlett say, ‘Originally, we thought we’d have around eight different styles, representing the different periods of Graham’s life. But when we saw what great stuff all the animation companies were offering, we simply couldn’t resist.’
None of the animators had worked in 3D ‘or stereoscopic as we have to call it,’ say the directors, who gave the teams six months after the Pythons recorded additional audio.
‘Despite our not having Pixar-style budgets to splash around, these young, hungry animators were throwing themselves into the project with everything they had. And always, it turns out, with a look over their shoulder at what the other companies were doing, determined not to be out-done,’ say Bill Jones and Ben Timlett.
As a whole the film feels very authentic, what with the channeling of a dead-man’s voice and the backing of all the Pythons. It will mainly appeal to Python superfans, the completests, although Chapman’s story is funny, tragic and interesting enough to keep anyone entertained, perhaps with the exception of the episodes following his cold turkey which lose momentum slightly.
The animation itself is completely compelling, brilliantly executed and it turns out 3D was a good move, particularly where it gives depth to 2D cut-out figures. You’ll have to wait until 25 January for the general release though.