The Frog, The Dog, and The Devil (1986)

Director Bob Stenhouse
Writers Bob Stenhouse, Ernie Slow (original ballad)
Starring Grant Tilly (voice)
Genre Nightmare
Run Time (minutes) 6:29

Talk us through it

Set on a stormy night in September 1902, a Shepherd tricks a Mackenzie barman out of a bottle of “Hokonui Lightening”, a particular potent local brew. The Shepherd isn't exactly sober at the start of the movie and a few drams of Lightening aren't helping his state of mind as he begins a harrowing journey home through the storm ravaged hills.

Our fearless Shepherd is haunted by visions of the devil's daughter, a nude chick, and other macabre images as things take a turn for the worse. Thankfully his dog is on hand to ensure the situation doesn't get to out of control as the visions worsen. Is the Shepherd being haunted or is he suffering the after effects of way to much brew?

Saddle up, lets check the high country.


"Repent!" - Old dude outside pub

Ben Stenhouse under the influence of Ernie Slow's original ballad “The Devil's Daughter” also known as “The Godley Ghost” decided to make an animated movie as a fitting tribute to the “nation of drunkards” as New Zealand was called by the House of Lords in 1838. Considering the resulting movie is very tongue in cheek and light hearted in nature it must have come as a surprise then when the film won the Grand Prize at the Ottawa International Animated Film Awards in 1986 and then went on to receive an Oscar nomination for best short film animated in 1987. Clearly there isn't much wrong here and it would be churlish to find fault with such a heavily endorsed short. Let's get down to business then.

For those wanting to check out Ernie Slow's original ballad, we have you covered right here. It's getting to be a literary circle around these parts, yo more schlock needed.

Director Stenhouse sets the scene for his trip into the macabre with a particular violent lightening storm going down outside an out of the way pub. Great use of animation in getting the atmosphere happening and introducing us to the put upon Shepherd who is about to pay in an unusual way for the bottle of hooch that he tricks the bartender out of. Via the judicious use of a frog of all things, great almost Disney style creature animation there, the Director ensures we know which bottle is which, that will come into play later in the short. I'm also giving two thumbs up to the dude outside the pub who is on about repenting in a sort of prelude to the Shepherd's nightmare ride.

Director Stenhouse pulls off a slight of hand that will have you believing you are watching a period piece. Simply excellent film making.

During his opening gambit Stenhouse goes with a standard two dimensional cartoon style that is traditional in New Zealand animation. See Footrot Flats or Bro' Town for a similar approach to the artwork. It works and sets the audience up for the share mayhem of the middle part of the movie, which comprises the majority of the short's running time. During the Shepherd's ride through hell Stenhouse switches to an almost psychedelic style that merges art in an almost liquid style to give substance to the nightmare the Shepherd is living through. It's the nightmarish quality of things, where even a branch or puddle can morph into something diabolical, that really sets the short up as an experience that the audience will wont to repeat. Director Stenhouse goes over the top with his pacing and things are galloping toward the final statement the movie makes. The shepherd does redeem himself, remember the frog, and perhaps saves his soul if you want to take a more prosaic view of what went down previously.

What is noticeable with The Frog, The Dog, and The Devil is Stenhouse's injection of a period feeling to things. Watching the short you can be forgiven for thinking it was made a number of decades before it actually was. There's a slight shakiness to things that reminds of the old news reels played in cinemas before the actual movie being shown. Throughout the short there is a sort of scratching noise that you hear in early movie soundtracks that have been digitised. And the soundtrack itself is wonderfully representative of earlier musical tastes. Bob Stenhouse has pretty much given us an antique of a movie, though this antique is clearly a reproduction and not as old as Stenhouse is pretending it to be. In the wash-up an excellent period setting that works for the visuals and the whole grandiose footing of the short. And before anyone makes a wise arse remark, no I wasn't around at the time news reels were the principle source of information. Hey kids before the interweb, yes back when dinosaurs walked the earth.

Overall about the only word you can successfully use to describe the actual frames is “lush”. While the colours may be slightly on the drab side Stenhouse as an artist has used bold strokes with nothing disappearing into the background. Almost every frame is rendered in primary colours with shades used to highlight nightmarish elements. There's the noticeable difference between traditional and psychedelic frames but it all ties together like a brought one with the transition between frames being all smooth and natural. At no stage of the short are you taken out of the film by over vigorous editing.

For those wondering about dialogue I can report a general lack going down. Bob Stenhouse lets his visuals speak for themselves and the story unfolds as a visual metaphoric experience rather than through the interaction of various characters. There's dialogue when needed but it's an addition rather than the underlying focus. I managed to find a quote to use, but if you haven't seen the actual short then it is pretty meaningless. The Shepherd does repent, the demon drink is put back into the bottle, and Stenhouse has made some sort of a statement. Once again check out more critically approved sites if wanting a more philosophical approach to things than we take here.

Not sure there's too much more I can say about this short, it's typically kiwi but should appeal to a wider international audience. I've got the feeling The Frog, The Dog, and The Devil could be used as a textbook example of how to make a short animated movie but since I don't hang with bohemian movie types am unable to back that statement up. It's a good example of how not to waste even a single frame, how to tell a story with a theme, and as sure as hell is not going to freeze over approaches “redemption” from an entirely different angle to anything I've seen before.

[Editor's Note: Dear god in heaven a review under our word limit for a change!]

ScaryMinds Rates this short as ...

Simply an excellent exercise in short animated movie making.