Not this movie, though. Marona’s not a gory or even particuarly blunt demise. In fact, the filmmakers go out of their way to cushion the blow, by telling us right away that this is how Marona dies, then backing up to tell us her life story, including he early experiences with her mother, father, and eight siblings, her various owners, only one of whom is really a dog person, unfortunately, and some of whom are petty, neglectful, and mean. Her first owner is an acrobat who is drawn as an impossibly long, slender being defined by wavy, elastic lines. Her second owner is a big, deep-voiced delivery truck driver who loves her but is more enamored with and loyal to his girlfriend, a petty, vain woman who thinks of Marona primarily as a lifestyle accessory and is jealous of the attention her boyfriend bestows on his pet. And there’s the deliveryman’s elderly mother, who is sweet during the daytime but turns bitter and mean at night. Finally there’s a young girl who finds her in a park, takes her home to her mother and grandfather, and raises her until her death.
None of these human characters, including the “good” ones, are presented as entirely noble or selfless individuals, because their flaws are what make them, well, human. The closest thing to a purely good person is the girl’s mother, a harried single mom distracted by financial troubles and the responsibility of caring for her elderly and disabled father; she is literally overflowing with love, her long, red seeming to extend beyond her feet and wrap around her daughter like a superhero’s cape. Part of the point here is to encourage us to look at ourselves as the caretakers of pets, or the loved ones of humans who are caretakers of pets, then ask whether we set the kind of example that we ought to, or if we could try a bit harder, pay a bit more attention, think about something other than ourselves.
It all feels rather like a self-delivered eulogy or obituary by a person who lived a life that a historian or media outlet would not consider significant enough to acknowledge, but that meant a great deal to her and to the people she was close to. The movie falls within the cinematic tradition of stories narrated by people who have just died and are trying to make sense of their experience as their bodies transform from matter to energy.
The film is also demanding in terms of its style, tone, and choice of what to emphasize. This is not an American studio-type of production, with three-dimensional-looking, realistically shaded animation, visual grammar that mimics live action Hollywood blockbusters, a soundtrack of brash, Broadway-ready original songs or needle-drop pop tunes, and dialogue packed with references and slang that might’ve seemed up-to-the-minute when the project was green-lit five years earlier. “Marona’s Fantastic Tale” unfolds according to its own logic and intuition, and demands a great deal of viewers (adults as well as kids), starting with a very basic request that viewers get their minds around the fact that life is finite and ends in death, and you don’t get to choose the time, place, and circumstances.