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Mr Hublot.

D: Laurent Witz, Alexandre Espigares / 11m

Winner of this year’s Oscar for Best Animated Short Film, Mr Hublot. is the simple tale of a little man with OCD who spends his days checking that the pictures on his walls are aligned correctly, turning his lights on and off a proscribed number of times, while also managing to work from home.  He doesn’t appear to go anywhere, or have any hobbies.  He does appear to be happy though.  One day he hears the screech of brakes outside his apartment.  He goes to his balcony and sees that a robot dog has been abandoned on the sidewalk across the street.  At first he’s only mildly concerned and returns to his daily routine.  Later, when it’s raining, he hears the dog crying.  He looks out again and sees the dog cowering from the storm in a cardboard box.  The next morning, he looks out and is horrified to see the refuse collectors putting several cardboard boxes into the back of the truck where they are being crushed.  He dashes down to the street but is too late: the boxes are all crushed and the refuse truck has moved on.  But the dog is still alive.  Overjoyed, Mr Hublot takes him back to his apartment.

How the robot dog settles into Mr Hublot’s life and apartment makes up for the rest of the movie, and perhaps it’s a good idea to mention that when they first meet, the dog is a puppy.  As he grows it causes all sorts of problems for our bespectacled hero (not least when it comes to watching television), and it’s not long before Mr Hublot is forced to make a difficult decision about the dog’s future.

Mr Hublot. - scene

There is much to admire in Mr Hublot., from the steampunk world he lives in (inspired by the work of Belgian sculptor and artist Stéphane Halleux) to the convincing detail of the apartment he lives in.  There are Victorian elements to the set design that offset beautifully the mechanical devices, and the array of implements and machinery adds a commendable layer of authenticity to the surroundings.  With such a fully realised world to lose oneself in, it’s good to have Mr Hublot along as our guide, OCD and all (watch for the quandary he has to deal with when leaving the apartment in order to save the dog).  With his Gru-like dome of a head, complete with thought counter(?), and aviator-style goggles, Mr Hublot is like an eccentric uncle, one your parents don’t talk about much but who charms you from the moment you meet him.

The robot dog is a great character as well, a lively, attention-seeking puppy that turns into a destructive, immovable adult (but still retains his likeability).  As a grown dog a resemblance to the Iron Giant comes to the fore, and his strong metal jaw manages to give the impression that he’s smiling a lot of the time.  Even without a name, this robot pet is cute, adorable, annoying, stubborn, infuriating and even more cute the longer he stays with Mr Hublot.  It’s an inspired match, pairing a reclusive gentleman with a lively pet (though the effect the dog has on Mr Hublot’s OCD is less pronounced than you might expect).  There’s an emotional bond there too, and an entirely credible one at that.  It helps to ground some of the movie’s more whimsical moments, and provides the audience with a layer of depth that might otherwise be missing.

Co-director and writer – and first-timer – Laurent Witz has created a character and a world that is enjoyably realistic in its presentation.  He’s also taken a predictable storyline – one man and his dog – and managed to include a few surprises along the way, making Mr Hublot. a rewarding experience from beginning to end.  If there are to be any more adventures involving Mr Hublot, then they can’t come soon enough.

Rating: 9/10 – a beautifully realised “alternative” world that has been brought to life with amazing attention to detail; with its loveable and endearing central character, Mr Hublot. is a treat for fans of animation everywhere.