Anthony Liotta addresses toxic masculinity subtly in his animated short ‘So a Mouse Walks Into a Bar’

Ohio-based animator Anthony Liotta, who has been dabbling with animation since he was a child, has beautifully translated his real-life experience of witnessing toxic masculinity into an innocent looking animated short titled So a Mouse Walks Into a Bar. With a belief that important issues like sexuality, prejudice and so on should be discussed with children at an early age, Liotta decided to convey this through animation as he feels it’s the perfect medium to impart knowledge about such topics and animation is the perfect medium. His latest work that is available on YouTube is meant to resonate with teens and tweens.

“The movie comes from a memory of me at some crusty bar in the middle of Midwest nowhere, Ohio. I remember playing this dingy claw machine in the corner and all of these reserved older men who I wouldn’t expect to be into it were egging me on as I played. It was an image that always stuck with me. These men had a facade, and the entire thing collapsed when they saw a little kid try to win a toy. I had to pitch a film to work on for my third year at school, and my team and I agreed to develop this idea based on some sketches I had done around this personal story and some doodles of an innocent looking mouse,” Liotta told AnimationXpress in an email interaction.

Vouching for the strength of animation capable of serving as a medium to discuss all grave issues, the young animator said, “I think animation is an awesome medium to tell any story in. It gives you so much room to experiment with character, color, movement, shot composition, and story. Even on a basic level of ‘oh hey, we don’t have to make the main characters people, we can make them a cat and mouse and recontextualize that visual conflict in a new way’. Animation allows a lot of freedom to explore what your narrative is capable of. Animated films that fire on all cylinders can be really engaging and create a voice separate from most other art forms.”

So a Mouse Walks Into a Bar is an animated short film of nearly four minutes which is about a curious little mouse named ‘Petey’ who walks into a bar where he isn’t welcome and must use his incredible claw skills to win the hearts of ferocious cats who seem to be struggling with some toxic masculinity. The short was made by the team as ‘a contained little film’ without planning any episodic continuation.

The unique title for the short ‘was a silly little joke’ for him and he felt ‘the movie answering that question by showing what literally happens after a mouse walks into a bar was cute’.

Liotta is currently working on his first large-scale animation project. He was making stop motion animations with his parent’s tape camera when he was eight years old and was ‘making terrible animations on MS Paint and Windows Movie Maker as soon as he had a computer’.

Matthew Monelli who is the producer of the short film is currently working on a comedic satire series called Managed with fellow producer Elísabet Ronaldsdóttir of Shang-Chi fame.

“I was working with a fellow filmmaker who brought to my attention that his brother was an animator. I was drawn by his work and felt compelled to reach out. Anthony is a talented storyteller as is his team. The story of So a Mouse Walks Into a Bar is wholesome. It reminded me of the cartoons I watched in my childhood years on Saturday mornings. I’m a proud producer,” Monelli told Animatio Xpress.

According to Liotta, So a Mouse Walks Into a Bar, which was released in June 2021, is liked by 18 to 22 year olds who really like cartoons and animation.

Courtesy: Anthony Liotta’s website

“When you’re telling a story like this, one that kind of has a clear message, I think it inherently opens the door to more audiences, specifically younger ones. When we were designing the characters and world, children’s TV animation was a huge well we kept returning to,” he said.

The movie’s theme evoked a lot of personal experiences for the team. The creative team behind the film is writer, director, animator Liotta and animation /art by Nicholas Cunningham, Sunny Podbelsek, Ross Sheely, and Same Phillips with special thanks for Ama Washington, CJ Nowacek, Maddie Burke.

“When we made this movie, we were thinking about how weird it is that there’s this repressed child in so many people that a lot of adults (men specifically in this movie’s case) tend to bury. Usually, that comes from a fear of looking weak in the eyes of the people around them. So people often hide who they are or how they truly feel about something. I know it’s something I REALLY struggled with as a kid. When you get older, it doesn’t go away,” the film’s director revealed.

“I think I spent too long in my life trying to make sure people didn’t look at me funny in the hallway, and if someone feels that they have to be strong, they don’t. They’re allowed to be hurt, they’re allowed to be silly, they’re allowed to be honest,” he added.

The young lad emphasized on making a child understand, rather than telling them to refrain from various activities.

“I think sexuality, prejudice, and implicit bias are important things for kids to recognize and learn about. Kids need to know that it’s okay to be who they are, how to treat people and how to recognize things in their environment that provokes negativity. I think anyone can tell a kid not to bully someone, but it’s something else to explain to a kid why these actions hurt, and how to have empathy for the people around them. I think kids are a lot smarter than people think and can handle these sorts of topics, but you have to talk to them and have conversations with them that may not be easy,” Liotta said.

Asked about the chosen platforms for the film and if he has been pitching it to buyers, he said, “I’m a big chariot for ‘throw it on the internet and let the world decide what they want to do with it’, but we have been shopping it around to festivals and promoting it online. I think I just grew up in an era where I got really comfortable with the internet and the idea of making things readily accessible to people who want to see it”.

Without disclosing much about his upcoming project, he revealed, “I’m working on a film about two kids trying to make it big in the intergalactic rock music scene and questioning what they want to do with their lives.”

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