Fresh out of Brisbane comes the animated Aussie adventure, The Wishmas Tree. The first film in The Tales of Sanctuary City franchise, The Wishmas Tree is sort of like a family-friendly Lord of the Rings, only Frodo is a ringtail possum and Gandalf is a Frilled-Neck Lizard.
Kerry Ringtail – ‘wildlife expert’ and Steve Irwin doppelgänger – is fearless, adventurous and, most of all, desperate to explore the rest of the world outside of Sanctuary City. Unfortunately, leaving the city is forbidden; nobody that has left has ever returned. Sanctuary City is a perfect paradise, birthed many (many, many, many, many, many) years ago inside a fallen star. It is a safe haven for all animals, protected from the evil force of ‘extinction’, with just one simple rule:
“Do not eat one another, no matter how yummy they look”
Kerry’s desperation to see the wild leads her to make a wish that not only spirals the town into a perilous winter, but also breaks down the city’s protective spell, putting everyone’s life in jeopardy. Accompanied by her over-protective sister Petra, Yarra the town elder and a walking stick with googly eyes dubbed ‘Stick’, Kerry sets out on the dangerous quest to undo the damage she has done and restore the magic back to Sanctuary city.
Big bang for their bucks
As a film, The Wishmas Tree isn’t quite as profound or polished as what we’ve come to expect these days. The animation isn’t as detailed, the action is less impressive and its moral lessons are comparatively lacklustre. However, as a production made for a budget literally two hundred times less than a Pixar film, it is safe to say The Wishmas Tree certainly punches above its weight. Particularly impressive is its orchestral soundtrack that effectively underscores the tension and emotional arcs of the film.
The film is written by Peter Ivan, best known for Oddball, and takes place in what would seem an archaic and sensationalised Australia, but is really a fantasy world of its own. By concentrating on only a few key characters, Ivan is able to distil what could have potentially been a complex and confusing story down to one easily palatable for younger audiences. That said, he still manages to walk the delicate family film tightrope to accommodate parents in the process. The film has a good pace to it throughout, with many laugh out loud moments.
Kerry Ringtail is played by Miranda Tapsell (The Sapphires, Top End Wedding), who encapsulates an impressive, yet slightly disconcerting child’s voice, and well-known British comedian Ross Noble brings to life the wise and wonderful Yarra, the mentor who will be sprouting proverbs one minute, then talking to a stick the next.
Aussie animals shine
When it comes to animation we’re so used to seeing the same old dogs, cats and lions on screen, it was actually quite refreshing to see some Australian animals for once. Also refreshing is a possum protagonist, rather than the more stereotypical Australian kangaroo or emu.
The film is rated PG for mild themes and animated violence, by which they mean toe stomping, nose hair plucking and an unfortunate rainbow lorikeet that gets struck by lightning. Fear not parents, the lorikeet loses its feathers but remains unharmed. There is also a fair bit of innocent toilet humour throughout.
With ‘extinction’ as the primary antagonistic force throughout the film, you’d be forgiven for assuming that conservation might be the primary underlying primary theme. Instead, The Wishmas Tree is more interested in exploring the idea of communal reinforcement, that is, the influence of community and circumstance on worldview. The film draws a number of parallels with the experience and treatment of Indigenous Australians, with a particularly memorable reconciliation scene.