Trent Dalton. The most heartfelt, talented, and remarkable writer I have ever read in my 19 years of reading. The most beautiful thing about his work – it comes from Brisbane – his insight and knowledge into the Australian psyche, the idiosyncrasies of people and fundamental belief in love is something truly unmatched. You’ve probably heard about his debut book Boy Swallows Universe (now being made into a Netflix series!) or his most recent (and my favourite) book Love Stories, but I would like to pitch a case for his second book: All Our Shimmering Skies, and why in my opinion, it would make a fantastic animated movie.
The plot and its themes
A supernatural, mystic adventure amidst the backdrop of World War 2 and the Australian outback; the plot of this book translates onto the animated screen so well it is crazy. The protagonist of the story, Molly Hook, reminds me of so many strong female leads in animated movies like Coraline (in Coraline), and Chihiro in Spirited Away, who overcome immense struggle through finding themselves in a world that is actively pitted against them.
Both of those films would make a great template for the sort of movie this would be – a beautifully animated, dream-like mystery where the young main character finds themselves through a long and perilous journey, exploring themes of history, family, grit (quite literally), passion and hope.
Animated movies, like Up, Inside Out and Soul, all work on an emotional level because the medium enhances their messages, accentuating their themes of love, self-discovery and realisation through exaggerated, larger than life animations and characters. This would be perfect for All Our Shimmering Skie’s protagonist Molly, who develops and changes immensely throughout the novel, from a frightened girl to a strong and brave young adult. As well as this, with many different sublots intertwining throughout the narrative, the books’ non-linear structure works well for the animated medium as it allows for jumping around – being able to delve into backstories, past trauma, family and dreams without sacrificing continuity, similar in execution to something like Coco.
“Hearts don’t turn to stone, Molly,” Greta says. “But they do turn. One day your heart is filled with nothing but love and then something gets inside and mixes in with all that love and sometimes that something is black and sometimes it’s cold and feels just like stone because it’s heavy, and sometimes it gets so heavy you can’t carry it inside you no more.”
As we all know, the land is the fundamental jigsaw piece in the puzzle we call Australian existence. It provides us with culture, spirituality, language, law and identity – a tenet in Indigenous Australian culture – it is the place we all stand, love, and act. In the book All Our Shimmering Skies, Trent’s description of Australian landscape is stunning alchemy of light, colour, history, emotion and vigour, traversing the bomb exhausted streets of Darwin to mysterious deep caves in the heart of scrub and bush. It is honestly some of the best descriptions of landscape I have ever read, and I think it would translate beautifully onto an animated screen, something unachievable in the realm of live action.
“Purple sky with streaks of pink and red, streaks of fire. Three wanderers moving under and over sandstone ledges, around freestanding rock outcrops. A shifting landscape, stone country turning to brief rainbow-coloured of clusters of orchis and banskias…”
The choice of art-style to bring this to screen could go many ways. Personally, I think something like Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr Fox and Isle of Dogs is a good starting point, as they project beautifully rich, romantic and meticulously crafted landscapes to life, and you can tell genuine care and effort has been put into every frame.
Likewise, movies such as Fantasia, Kubo and the Two Strings, and pretty much anything Studio Ghibli are all great starting points to explore the vast expanse of the empty Australian outback through virtue of emotional thematic and aesthetic association.
Australian cinema is on the rise, which is fantastic. But alongside this rise should also come a focus on animated movies, and I think we can do better than Blinky Bill’s Outback Adventure. As the narrative is deeply entrenched the Australian mythos, the film would provide foreign audiences an insight into Australian culture; an homage to our way of life and what makes us tick. But most importantly, All Our Shimmering Skies pays its respect to First Nations history and culture and does so in a way that is not in your face or forceful – as I said, the land is a pivotal character within itself.
“…he said the land gives you all you need if you know the right way to ask for it.”
The exploration of Indigenous culture is something that can be done beautifully through the lens of film, and I believe adding an animated picture to the increasing amount of great Indigenous Australian movies would be an incredible milestone for our country. Stories provide all cultures with information about people, values and truth telling. If steadfast and committed to its visual style, All Our Shimmering Skies would be a visual tone poem beyond language, connecting to the spiritual ancestors of the land in a stunning visceral way whilst also paying homage to a momentous time in our nations history, and something I believe all Australian Audiences need to see.