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  • Brandon MacMurray

Mum's Spaghetti Review and Q+A with Director Lisa Kenney

Mum's Spaghetti , dir. Lisa Kenney, National Film and Television School, United Kingdom

When you think of a standard musical, the golden era of the 50s and 60s probably comes to mind. The musicals then were classically constructed, often with broadway music that followed a standard pattern of instrumentation and lyricism. Recently, songwriters like Lin Manuel Miranda have infused rap into Broadway music to enormous success, like in his works Hamilton and In the Heights. In similar fashion, Lisa Kenney creatively and uniquely creates an animated musical using grime music to narrate the story of Mum's Spaghetti.

Mum's Spaghetti tells the story of Poppy (voiced by Thaila Jada Charles), a teenager who spends her free time rapping in the streets of her new neighbourhood alongside her pup Snoop. Poppy strives to be part of "the best crew" as she tries to win the approval of the kids in her neighbourhood with her ability to freestyle rap. Her first effort to impress is a disaster - she's laughed at and told to "Come back when your raps aren't wet." However, Poppy makes a quick recovery as she proves "she can be mean to become the queen," and the crew invites her to join them. As Poppy enters her new crew and new persona - "Bad Dog" - her friendship and loyalty with her old pal Snoop is tested. Using stop-motion to narrate Poppy’s journey, Kenney’s 11-minute film is a perfect pairing of animation and musicality. While its stop-motion claymation style is reminiscent of Aardman, which is an evident inspiration, the design of the characters is fresh with a detailed artistic approach.

To top it off, Mum's Spaghetti has fun lyrics and engaging shots. The director cleverly constructs frames that reference the classics of grime music, such as Dizzee Rascal’s classic “Boy in Da Corner”, which just celebrated the 20-year anniversary of its release. Other references include Notorious BIG's throne from the “One More Chance” video and Stormzy’s group formation in the music video for "Shut Up". Alongside the rap and grime references, Lisa Kenney also tells a classic story of loyalty and friendship in the story of Poppy and Snoop.

Impressively, Mum’s Spaghetti is Kenney’s student work. It was awarded at the 50th Student Academy Awards in the animation category and it was also shortlisted at the 2023 Yugo BAFTA Student Awards. This film is a sample of Kenney’s talents and how gifted of a storyteller she is, combining great storytelling, fun visuals, fluid animation, and killer music using grime as a narrative tool.

Q+A with Director Lisa Kenney

Q: First of all, congratulations on the Student Academy Awards nomination! How was it for you to receive the news that you were among the top 3? Could you tell me a little bit about this moment?

A: Thank you! It was a very surreal moment, for sure. It really took a while to sink in. I found out on Zoom and then I went straight into the living room to tell my mum and dad who couldn't believe it either. Then I rang my producer, my best mate and even my old art teacher. I was marching about the house on adrenaline for most of the night! Q: One of the most interesting aspects of the film is how you use grime music to build Poppy’s story and the narrative line of it. What is your connection to grime? Did you think of using other musical styles before choosing it? A: I lived through the first wave of grime when I was a teenager. Me and all my friends used to blare out Dizzee Rascal, The Streets, Kano, Wiley etc on our Sony Walkman phones at school. When it came to revisiting that period of my life to tell Poppy's story, rap was the really the only way to go. My best friend Chris was an aspiring rapper before we lost him in 2012, so it felt like a nice way to honour him, too. Q: There is a very fun and interesting frame of the short that you reference the cover of Dizzee Rascal’s 2003 classic “Boy in Da Corner”. Did you experiment with other classic album covers or it was that the first one that came to mind? A: I'm so glad you noticed it! The film is actually peppered with references like that, some more obvious than others. My personal favourite was recreating The Streets' album cover from A Grand Don't Come for Free – but everything you see in Poppy's house, from the lamps to the chairs, the pictures on the wall, the rug in her bedroom and the throne her and Snoop sit in at the beginning was designed based on things from music videos. I've attached a few side by side images as an example.

Q: The score and lyrics are one of the most important narrative aspects of the film. Could you tell us how was the process of writing it and what the composition sessions were like? A: I had the absolute pleasure of working with an amazing composer called Hannah Barnett for the score. We started off by curating a playlist of references and talking a lot about the place in time that we wanted this film to feel like. Hannah and I were both teenagers in the early 00s, so we were very much on the same wave length from the beginning. I'd tell her what I was thinking and she'd disappear for a while and come back with something better than I could have imagined. From there, myself and our writer Jack Maraghy would spend ages coming up with hilarious diss tracks aimed at school kids and figuring out how far we could push things before crossing the line. Writing the raps was definitely one of the most fun parts of the process. You can check out the score (and a hidden bonus track) on Spotify here: Q: The stop-motion usage here is very impressive and each shot is outstanding to look at. How long did it take to animate these sequences? Were all of them were planned from the beginning or did ideas came up during the process and you decided to experiment with them?

A: Thank you so much! We started shooting in May 2022 and finished in February 2023. In the beginning, I was animating around three seconds a day, but come crunch time in February I was getting through as much as 10-12 seconds in a day across two or three shots at a time. A lot of planning went into what we were going to shoot, from making an initial animatic to an extensive shot list with my incredible DP, Toby Lloyd – but a lot of the time, Toby would come up with new ideas when setting up the camera or we'd come across things by accident and decide to go for it there and then. I tried to maintain an attitude of saying yes to good ideas wherever possible, even if it did mean going slightly off-plan – and that resulted in some really fun shots we might not have gotten otherwise.

Thank you so much for talking to us at Short Stick. Congratulations on the wonderful work you have done!

Review by: Pedro Lima



The short end of the stick: The inferior part, the worse side of an unequal deal

When it comes to cinema and the Oscars it always feels like short films and getting the short end of the stick. Lack of coverage, lack of predictions from experts and an afterthought in the conversation. With this site we hope to change that, highlighting shorts that stick with you, predictions, and news on what is happening in the world of shorts. 

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