Adult animation is hardly a novel concept on television, a medium where South Park, Adult Swim, Bojack Horseman, Ricky & Morty, and the stylings of Seth MacFarlane have reigned for years, if not decades.
Fewer than a handful of non-Japanese filmmakers — Marjane Satrapi and Don Hertzfeldt spring to mind — have done as much as Ari Folman to sell cartoons to grown ups at the box office. The Israeli director broke new ground in 2006 with Waltz with Bashir, an affecting, animated dramatisation of his career as a young soldier during the 1982 Lebanon War. The Congress, his wildly ambitious follow-up, followed Robin Wright on a fascinating journey between live-action and animation as she negotiated future vagaries of image rights, digitisation, and selfhood.
It’s intriguing to find Folman catering to an all-ages audience, and even more intriguing to find him traversing the horrors on the horizon of Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl on behalf of younger viewers. Folman’s own parents, as a closing credit reveals, arrived at Auschwitz at the same time as the Frank family.
Where is Anne Frank? animates both Anne’s diary and imagines a contemporary existence and adventure for Anne’s imaginary best friend, Kitty. In common with Anne, Kitty finds a love interest named Peter, although her Peter is an Amsterdam street kid with friends who are classed as illegal immigrants. Against a backdrop where every street and tourist-friendly attraction seems to be named after Anne Frank, Kitty struggles to find out the fate of her chum, a mystery that takes her all the way to Bergen-Belsen where Anne died. More frustratingly for Kitty, there are bridges and theatres named after Anne and yet the meaning of her words seem to have been forgotten.
Folman valiantly juggles Anne’s youthful interpretation of events that Adorno described as rendering poetry impossible. The author of the words: “Oh, if only the black circle could recede and open the way for us!” is lively and clear. In common with Folman’s work on the graphic novel version of The Story of A Young Girl, he finds her humour. It’s her voice that shapes the stylised death masks of Nazi troops and Kitty’s appearance.
The convention of jumping between time periods can make the plot a little cluttered but the film’s worth as an educational tool for pre-teen audiences is inarguable. Working with Waltz with Bashir animation director Yoni Goodman, Folman places eye-catching 2D characters against exquisite stop-motion backgrounds. As if in answer to the title, the spectacular designs confirm that she’s right here.