Velcro The Ninja Kat comes to life in cinematic form in the newest of many short films from writer-director Chris Widdop.
Chris Widdop is an author most famous for his series of Velcro: The Ninja Kat novels, but he is a filmmaker as well, with his newest DVD release Kip serving as a collection of his shorts from the past ten years. I’ve known him for that period in online circles and as a professional film critic, I am proud to say that he is a writer/director worth keeping your eye on and supporting with a purchase of this disc, as the video and audio specs are as solid and engaging as the narratives and worlds he’s created thus far.
His oldest short is The Red Scarf (2012), which follows a Girl (played by Caroline Barr) trying to decipher what’s going on inside her mind as she has strange dreams of a tall, ominous man wearing a titular red scarf tormenting her and her pet cat. The low production values here do ask the audience to put with audio issues among other shortcomings, but the spirit and energy of the short make it fun to watch because Widdop succeeded in making a live action anime with what he had, from the stylish costuming and colorful dream sequences to a raucous score, characters that carry guitars, a goofy sense of humor, and the mind bending turns the story takes, including a cliffhanger not unlike an episode of a traditional long-running anime. It’s clear Widdop and everyone involved had fun making it, and that’s what keeps The Red Scarf watchable for its runtime.
Widdop followed that up tremendously with Dream Girl in 2015, a dialogue-less short about a mid twenties male having recurring dreams about interactions with a young woman. What begins as a melancholy depiction of loneliness and longing for romance feels unnerving through the pensive tones of the musical score, as well as the choice to shoot the scenes of the man alone in black and white while his interactions with the woman are in color.
The moody monochrome sequences imply his internal sadness but also a certain ominousness: there isn’t much we know about this man other than he’s in love with someone, but to what extent is left up to the audience to figure out well after the short’s conclusion. Has he really had these interactions with this woman, or are they a figment of his imagination? The results invite ruminations about the dangerous effects of obsession, regaining courage in solitude and the unbelievable powers of the mind within its relatable plot line, and that’s what makes Dream Girl worth coming back to again and again.
Widdop’s next short would come in 2018 in the form of Sianostra, where he dabbles once again in the realm of romance, but with elements of comedy as well. After breaking up with his girlfriend, Noah (Jimmy Maguire) is down on his luck until one night, a mysterious girl named Sianostra (Kayla Badia) appears in his swimming pool seemingly from a fantastical realm. The comedy that lands the most here is when cartoon sound effects perfectly sync to the quirks of Maguire’s performance, whether it’s when piano notes hit as Sianostra’s walking syncs with Noah’s with every step they take, or as Noah tries to reach for a beer on his nightstand that he doesn’t realize isn’t there.
Maguire is hilarious as the hapless Noah, who just wants to live his life as normal but doesn’t know how to reach his sudden new houseguest, but it’s Badia who steals the show through her nuances as she looks around Noah’s world in confusion but wonder after her arrival. She also excels in her line delivery, such as when she tells Noah about the passers-by she saw while waiting for him to get off work in a robotic but excited endearment. The music is a bit overpowering and drowns out some of the dialogue, and this critic wished there was another element of fantasy that separated Sianostra from humanity more than just the trinket around her neck, but the actors are good and the humor lands enough to keep Sianostra entertaining and heartfelt, as well as an ultimately tender depiction of what it means to be committed to a relationship.
The short which titles this DVD collection, Kip, however, is the standout entry. Here, Widdop takes a scene from one of his many Velcro novels and brings it to live-action. The short does drop those unfamiliar with his book series right into the franchise’s universe with a scene that feels set in the middle of a story as Kip confronts the Elder Chow after a violent journey driven by revenge. However, Kip is a significant improvement on its replication of a live-action anime style from The Red Scarf ten years earlier, from Widdop’s voice performance that adds a gruff resentment to Kip’s character and shot compositions that linger for long periods of time on the speaker in a given conversation, to the confrontation’s moody location and lighting as well as artful representations of Kip’s inner mind that see him ruminating over the meaning of revenge in a labyrinth of hallways, accented by a female voiceover that serves as the final bit of empathy within him. Kip sets an ominous, dark tone for the franchise’s transition to film and showcases Widdop’s novelty as a filmmaker through an employment of practical effects: Kip and the Elder Chow are humanoid animals brought to life through costumes and puppetry not unlike the sort from the early 90s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles trilogy.
That may be off-putting for some, but those nostalgic for that era and have learned Widdop’s sensibilities will understand that he knows his influences and what he finds joy in making, and strives to bring his creations and ideas to life with everything at his disposal. It’s evident in his progression that he wants to take his filmmaking pursuits to new heights, as his production values get better with every film he makes. With that as well as a nifty teaser for the fifth book in his Velcro series of novels, Widdop’s passion for creation shows in every frame, and that’s why this collection of his cinematic work is worth a purchase.