Hamil with Care

Matt Orefice and ‘Bubble Bubble Meows’

This month Northwest Film Forum presents its Local Sightings Festival, a showcase of new films from the region along with juried prizes, parties and artist talks. Returning this year is local filmmaker Matt Orefice, whose cartoon Bubble Bubble Meows and the Meteor Stomachache premiered at last year’s fest. The feature-length sequel to that film, Bubble Bubble Meows and the Lame-O Baby Jib, continues the scratchpad doodle aesthetic and kitchen sink approach to story with a sprawling cast of talking animals and vegetables and non sequitur scenarios. It’s as if the movie is being made up as you watch it, childlike in its meandering, absurd plotlines and bursts of spontaneous song but also strangely adult in its deliberate pauses, undersold dialogue and Mamet-like repetitions. The effect can be both engrossing and exasperating. 

In order to get a better sense of what the hell I just watched, I talked to Orefice by phone as his infant son napped. 

What led you to become the animation auteur you are now? What’s your background?
Film production. I worked on some biggish stuff for people who knew what they were doing, and now I’m doing stuff on my own as if I’ve learned nothing.

You did some work on The Simpsons Movie?
Yes. That was on the non-creative side; it was all post-production. I was working with the head animation group and coordinated with the five different worldwide production houses/sweatshops.

My actual tasks are so boring you wouldn’t believe me. I had to watch the movie five times a day and take notes on every frame. Sitting in a room in front of one of those Apple monitors with twenty other people and watching these scenes—bits that are done and not done—and looking for mistakes, basically.  I’m colorblind, so I was the one catching all the color mistakes because for some reason I was seeing things different than anyone else did.

So you went from these perfectionist-type tasks to making the Bubble Bubble Meows movies, which seem pretty anti-perfectionist.
Right, they’re very sloppy as if a child did them, and maybe I do have a small child doing them. They’re very rough and it’s intentional because I have no time to do this stuff. All I wanted to do was make something for my son and have it be kind of a keepsake he might enjoy in the future. We may not actually tell him that I did this, so he’ll be left to his own devices to judge.

Do these films fit into any existing animation aesthetic? You’ve got the low-fi, low budget stuff like Aqua Teen or the Squigglevision cartoons like Dr. Katz and Home Movies. Do you see yourself connected to that tradition?
I wouldn’t want to drag them down with me. I’ve seen Aqua Teen Hunger Force and I think it’s funny because of the meatball guy, but the other stuff I haven’t seen. I don’t purposely ascribe to a bad art aesthetic, I just throw something on the wall and that which sticks is someone else’s work and that which falls to the floor is mine.

It almost seems like a cartoon that would be playing in the background of a dream—it’s stream of consciousness.
Yeah. It’s a pretty simple thing, a three-act structure; there’s the cat, something happens to him, there’s a road trip, then they get back and everything’s okay but not really. The elements that are unusual or surreal, they’re just randomized stuff you pick out of the ether.

It’s a little divisive—people either hate it or they hate it not so much. It’s slow, there’s lots of repetitive stuff that goes on and a lot of long pauses. If there were beautiful scenery and chiseled, handsome actors it would be a Wim Wenders movie. But instead it’s not, it’s just pretending to be in a coy kind of way.

You have all these random elements, but then there are songs. How does music work within this world?
Well, musicals go faster than non-musicals, so that’s kind of a crutch on which this movie limps along. When I was writing them—“writing” in quotes or italicized—it’s like, “Exposition is needed here and that’ll bore people so maybe they can sing it.”

You’re working on a third one for next year?
I’m recording the last voices for it today. 

What’s your ultimate motivation in these?
Vanity, and having something to give this kid to watch when he grows up. And I just like to create. Some people need to dance and stuff; this is what I do. 

The Local Sightings Festival runs at Northwest Film Forum September 24 through October 3. Bubble Bubble Meows and the Lame-O Baby Jib plays September 25.