My Friend Bernard (Aaron Lim, 2012)
Here’s my hypothesis about what should have been a pretty darned good kidflick: the Korean animated movie My Friend Bernard was originally conceived as a silent, or close to silent, movie. But then, some genius at the studio watched the rough cut and said, “this movie won’t make sense to its target demographic. It needs narration.”
And so My Friend Bernard has narration. It reminds me of a passage from Carrie Cuinn’s foreword to her anthology Cthulhurotica, when she’s talking about some of the submissions: “I got stories that introduced a lovely setting, but spent the next two thousand words having sex all over it.” That’s exactly what happened here, and the longer the movie went on, the more I resented the narration, which is an insult to the intelligence of the average six-year-old, much less the average adult. (I am obviously not the only one who feels that way; the movie’s rating on IMDB as I write this is 4.2.)
So assuming you can get past the awful narration, My Friend Bernard is the story of a boy named Sam, who’s scared of pretty much everything. After a local yappy mutt absconds with Nano, Sam’s toy bear who goes with him everywhere, Sam discovers a magical necklace that whisks him off on a journey to learn to be brave. First, he heads to the antarctic, where he makes the acquaintances of Lloyd and Eva, a pair of penguins, and Bernard, a flatulent polar bear. (Bernard is originally an antagonist, which makes the title of the film a bit confusing for a while there.) Then the four of them are whisked away to the desert, where they encounter an opportunistic gecko and a sea monster who, like both Lloyd and Bernard, falls head over heels for Eva. Cue hilarity.
It’s not that My Friend Bernard would be an animated classic even without the narration; the structure is far too episodic for its own good, no one (except Sam) really seems to have compelling motivations for anything they do (why does Bernard suddenly become an ally, aside from “the enemy of my enemy”, which doesn’t lead to the final sequences in any way?), and we get no sense of Sam really developing friendships with anyone, even Lloyd, who’s obviously supposed to be Sam’s spirit animal. But it’s a cute film, and it’s effective enough to tug at the heartstrings (even if the final showdown between Sam and the aforementioned dog is just too dumb for words, not to mention manipulative in the extreme), and had the studio left well enough alone and allowed this movie to be released without a narrator having sex all over it, it would have at least been an amusing diversion. As it stands, though, you can safely ignore it. *
And a trailer.