To many parents who prize creativity, children’s animation occupies a lower rung on the artistic ladder. The stuff of Saturday mornings can often seem needlessly broad, hopelessly derivative, and crassly commercial (with a few notable exceptions). In other words, it too often starves young imaginations rather than sustaining them. But what happens when a one-time animator decides to try her hand at children’s books? Very good things indeed if you happen to be former Dreamworks artist Molly Idle. Her Flora and the Flamingo is a wordless picture book fairly bursting with beauty and containing some surprisingly deep lessons for very young readers.
The flamingo stands serenely in a placid pool framed by pink plum blossoms. The bird’s every detail bespeaks effortless elegance, from the graceful curve of its neck to an arabesque so steady that the water never stirs around its slim leg. Such delicate majesty! Hold up, though: What is this? Why, it’s little Flora with her big, black flippers on and her hair bundled up beneath a yellow swimming cap. She wants to pose just like the flamingo. How cute. But she can’t possible hope to copy the bird’s perfect poise—can she?
It’s hard to imagine a better visual foil for the flamingo than Flora. Where the bird is long and lithe, she’s squat and stumpy. On some pages, she looks like a pink pear bedecked in swimming gear. She’s a normal little girl, in other words, one subject to all the adorable indignities of growing up. I love how, unlike many animators, Idle refuses to cast her as some willowy, idealized representation of childhood. I also love how Idle treats the topic of failure, because Flora fails quite spectacularly in her attempt to emulate the flamingo. Her movements are clumsy, her postures preposterous, and a sudden slip sends her head over heels into the drink, much to the flamingo’s raucous amusement. Here again, Idle diverts from animation’s standard operating procedure. Flora doesn’t resolve matters by transforming herself into an uber-competent expert or by somehow showing up the haughty flamingo. Rather, a moment of shared vulnerability transforms the situation for both of them—and leads to some unexpected fun! A feast for little eyes and minds.
(Picture: Copyright 2013 by Molly Idle; used under Fair Use)