Many years in the making, Mad God is the stop-motion passion project of special effects legend Phil Tippett, best known for his pioneering work on Star Wars, RoboCop, Jurassic Park, and others.
Tippett cites Karel Zeman’s revered collage aesthetic as a primary inspiration, but I see a lot more of the Quay brothers in Mad God, or at least the grotesque brand of Street of Crocodiles worship seen in Adam Jones’s early Tool videos. While Tippett’s film shares the Quays’ tactile grime and indifference to lucid narrative, it lacks their elegant mystique, eschewing highbrow surrealism in favor of something more like sci-fi/fantasy worldbuilding. The world it builds is an unrelenting hellscape, filled with bizarre creatures enduring various miseries at the hands of even more bizarre creatures. It is richly imagined, dense with detail, and gnarly as fuck—total catnip for a fan of both practical effects and outré animation.
But not all aspects of Mad God’s mise en scène receive equal treatment. Its abundance of tracking shots gets pretty repetitive after awhile and starts to feel almost needy, like it wants to make sure we don’t miss an inch of these wild sets that were so laborious to produce. And its live action sequences feel both undercooked and incongruous with the stop motion animation that is the film’s heart and soul.
Thankfully, these issues aren’t nearly enough to sink it. Ultimately, the fact that this movie exists at all feels like a small miracle, and one I’m grateful for.