The Most Magnificent Thing
We might not know much about the ancient storyteller Aesop — how did he take his coffee? Did his sandals give him bunions? — but the fables accredited to him are legendary. Remember the one where the wind and the sun bet on who’s strong enough to make a man remove his coat?The wind blusters and blows hard, like so many blustery blowhards. But it only makes the man wrap his coat tighter around him. Then the sun beams warmly on him, a relief after the cold wind. As the sun shines hotter, the man wipes his brow and finally removes his coat. The moral: Gentle persuasion wins out over harsh force.Such seems the route taken in The Most Magnificent Thing, a 30-minute TV adaptation of Ashley Spires’ 2014 picture book of the same name. Narrated by Whoopi Goldberg and featuring the voice of Alison Pill (Vice, The Newsroom), the animated program airs Friday on YTV.The story settles on a plucky girl whose wide-spaced eyes and button nose check all the “cute” boxes, but whose flawed grin is realistically endearing. Her mom, an architect, gives her a tool box one day and she sets out to make something magnificent for her dog, but the creative process proves challenging.Instantly, you realize this isn’t your average girl-focused kiddie story. The frames aren’t dripping in hot pink hues. Instead, they’re warm and golden, not unlike Aesop’s fabled sunbeams. The gift isn’t a doll or baking kit — the tool box subtly yet firmly bucks gender stereotypes. And the soundtrack is filled with jaunty violin and piano, not bubble gum pop.After interviewing her dog for the job of her assistant, the girl drafts up her first creation and grabs supplies from the recycling bin (a nice nod to environmental awareness).Instantly, you realize this isn’t your average girl-focused kiddie story.“The girl looks here and there for ideas. She considers and selects, ponders and imagines,” says the narrator. Alas, it’s just not right and the girl tries another idea and then another.“Making stuff is hard,” she tells her mother, who’s struggling with a building concept of her own. “That never stopped you before,” says Mom. And nevertheless the girl persists.Then frustration sets in.“The girl gets a bad feeling. And a few more,” the narrator says. “And those bad feelings get in her way. They won’t leave her alone. They cloud her vision. They muddle her brain. And so she gets mad … It’s not her finest moment.”The girl and her dog take a break and go for a walk, where she sees other girls pursuing their passions — one is making a detailed chalk drawing on the sidewalk, while another is playing street hockey with a boy (and scoring goals to boot).This being a project from Toronto-based animation house Nelvana, there are also a couple of subtle winks to Canada. A statue of artist Emily Carr stands in the park, and the CN Tower fills the skyline at one point.As it is with most kids’ stories, there’s a happy ending and the girl eventually makes her most magnificent thing. But truthfully, it doesn’t matter what it is. What matters is the creative process and her determination to get there. When quiet persistence wins over hysterical tantrums, the girl gets her moment in the sun.The Most Magnificent Thing debuts Friday, Oct. 11, on YTV.