Winnie Cheung’s award-winning short is filled with trippy imagery, but might be too frenetic for its own good.
The animated short Albatross Soup, courtesy of animator Winnie Cheung, revolves around a classic thought experiment long utilized to map how human brains process information. The riddle is an odd (and old) one. To paraphrase: a man gets off a boat and walks into the first restaurant he can find. He orders the albatross soup, tastes deeply of a single spoonful, then ends his one life with a gunshot. Why?
At just under seven minutes, Soup has to hit the ground running. The short draws on over fifty voices asking a variety of yes or no questions to get to the proverbial bottom of the bowl. Soup, simply, has no time to chew the fat while we listen to its anonymous voices…well…chew the fat.
As a result, the whole affair has a strangely frenetic pace. As the bright kaleidoscopic animation swirls and spins from the abstract to the concrete and back again, the troupe of voices think aloud, giggle, and pose scenarios to an omniscient narrator. Soup, at times, takes on the sound and feel of a group of friends throwing themselves fully into a new party game.
Unfortunately, while delightful in its own way, this tone runs painfully against the riddle’s “plot.” Without giving away where things go or end up, the suicidal man’s life has not been a delightful one. Marked by tragedies, pain, and guilt long before he even walked into that fateful restaurant, nevermind pulled the trigger, he is not having 1/100th of the fun that the question askers are.
If one can ignore the sounds of many people giggling over the image of a man face down on a table bleeding out, Soup does have a beautiful style. Its bright rich colors look and bubble letter font look as though they it leapt right off 60’s concert posters and album covers. The images move smoothly before our eyes, keeping pace seamlessly with the questions. It creates a far more indelible and sensitive portrait of the deceased life leading to his suicide than the loud clashing audio paired with it ever does.
Overall, there is a lot about Albatross Soup to like, especially from a stylistic standpoint. However, the clash of tone against material never truly resolves itself and thus undermines the project as a whole.