The most important part of creating a fantastical world isn’t designing the scenery or coming up with the name, though both of those elements are worth putting time into. The one true, make-or-break part of the equation is populating the new place with characters that feel at home and make sense within the specific location. Peter Pan, Captain Hook and Tinkerbell all belong in Neverland. Something is amiss when they’re outside its bizarre confines, and fortunately for Beasts Of The Southern Wild, the same thing can be said for its lead characters and its primary location.
Hushpuppy (Quvenzhane Wallis) and Wink (Dwight Henry), along with a handful of other holdouts, are the last remaining people inside the Bathtub, a small community in the Louisiana bayou cut off from the larger civilization by a levee. As their friends, relatives, neighbors and baby mamas moved on, these stubborn inhabitants remained, giving themselves an identity of reckless, cocksure confidence and a buffer from the societal rat race they’re all pathologically fearful of joining. Their reasons for staying might be different, but their sincerity is never in doubt. They’re the ultimate insiders, and that’s never more true than during a storm.
Beasts Of The Southern Wild isn’t about a flood, though a hell of a flood does come. It’s not about glorifying or condemning the inhabitants’ reckless obstreperousness either, though the film alternates between the two. It’s more about six-year-old Hushpuppy, and the relationships she shares with her well-meaning but idiotic drunkard of a father and her larger community. Like every little girl, she wants to be loved, wants to feel joy, satisfaction, friendship and approval, but here, in the loosely tamed wilds of the Bathtub, earning those emotions requires beating on crabs, pulling trip wires and lighting stoves using unconventional means.
From its basic story arc to its score and its camera angles, Beasts Of The Southern Wild is consistently weird in that specific way only independent films even bother attempting. Gigantic pig-like creatures called Aurochs are continually cut to. A teacher named Bathsheba screams bizarre lessons at the children and uses the word “pussy” a lot. Wink and Hushpuppy actually live in separate homes. It must have all looked really disjointed and foolish on the page, but on film, it’s actually very engaging and has a vibrant originality to it.
Beasts Of The Southern Wild is daring and fresh. It’s able to build an entire world that feels both distinctly similar and distinctively different from ours in just ninety-three minutes. Its lack of narrative momentum and underutilization of side characters are reasons that prevent it from being one of the year’s best movies, but its sheer audacity and lively spirit still make it a wonderful viewing experience. Most of us might not be interested in moving to the Bathtub, but spending an afternoon there sure feels like a breath of fresh air.
When production first began on Beasts Of The Southern Wild, the scope was much larger. Director Behn Zeitlin filmed numerous scenes of Hushpuppy interacting with the other little girls and Wink bonding with a ton of friends from the Bathtub. Originally, the focus wasn’t nearly so locked in on Hushpuppy and Wink’s relationship, but when cutting for time and to create the strongest movie possible, the decision was made to cut away the fat. Consequently, many of the deleted scenes found on the disc are actually well-shot, interesting and informative. They really open up the Bathtub a bit, and they offer a good ratio of commentary to real footage.
The featurette on the making of Beasts Of The Southern Wild is also worth a watch. It does a great job of showing the crazy number of people who put aside their lives to help make the film a reality and all the subtle ways in which they helped. From serving as extras to doing readings alongside lead actors Dwight Henry and Quvenzhane Wallis, those who volunteered time couldn’t have been more invested.
Individual features on the Aurochs, the score and the auditions are also offered on the disc. The music might be the clear standout in the film, but among the special features, the audition tapes are probably the most fascinating. Quvenzhane absolutely owned every one of her practice scenes, and it’s extremely clear why she was chosen almost immediately.
Most independent movies are a bit short on special features because they don’t take the time to film extra content while production is going on. Everyone involved with Beasts Of The Southern Wild expected success from the moment they arrived on set, and that passion is clear not only in the film but the disc, too.