This is a short animation discovered while digging the foundations of a new museum in the Chile of 2023, and restored to be watched by a new audience some one hundred and twenty-two years after it was made. The first stop-motion cartoon ever created, it depicts a little girl using some form of necromancy to resurrect bones buried beneath a stage and magically assemble them in various arrangements before reconstituting them completely...
It's not unusual to see yourself as the centre of the world, and so it was with directors Cristobal Leon and Joaquin Cocina who placed their native Chile as the most important hub around which the globe turns, expecting the audience to know what they were referencing. Even if you had taken an interest in the political affairs of Chile, you may not know the finer details, nor that the two corpses reanimated as puppets were supposed to be based on actual people from their history.
One was 19th century politician Diego Portales, the architect of the nation's modern founding and someone naturally well known to Chileans, and the other was Jaime Guzman, a far later politician of the 20th century who was murdered when he crossed General Pinochet's government in the nineteen-eighties - he's the one in the glasses. Therefore there was a conscious anachronism here to make a point about the directors' nation of origin and its political situation over the course of centuries.
Though a prize winner at Venice, precisely what that was, was going to be lost on the majority of people who watched The Bones, or Los Huesos as it was called in Spanish, but there were compensations for those who liked to be creeped out. It would not be the first time cartoons from the past were invoked as a source of unease, indeed the public domain status of many vintage examples had them showing up in many a horror movie to be watched on television by characters who were about to be menaced by supernatural forces not a million miles away from what we saw the little girl playing with to move the body parts around.
Mary Shelley's Frankenstein was named as an influence by the directors, and you could perceive that as the girl could be a stand-in for Shelley, animating her story much as the fictional doctor raises the dead through assembled cadaver pieces. Fans of The Brothers Quay would find this appealing, it had that same faux-naive, actually sinister styling to what we were watching, and when flesh was added to the bones it was simply macabre to see Guzman's bespectacled bonce reduced to a plaything for a morbid child. As a conceit, it would probably not fool anybody, but that was part of the attraction, its chutzpah in its presentation and even if you were not up to speed on the social references, as a purely unsettling project to give audiences the heebie-jeebies - it's a small girl toying with corpses, after all - The Bones could be judged a success on those terms. Music by Tim Fain.