At just 44 minutes, This Magnificent Cake! zooms by, but it also leaves the viewer speechless. An exploration of 1800s Belgian history told through stop-motion animation that uses felt, wool, and cloth for its characters and settings, this is one of the most ground-breaking films to ever be made. And despite its heavy themes, the beautiful craftwork left me wanting to be in the world more than what we’re allowed.
The title derives from King Leopold II’s statement, “I do not want to miss a good chance of getting us a slice of this magnificent African cake.” Five stories showcase the different types of people who occupy the Congo, from the king who gets what he demands to a middle-aged Pygmy working in an upscale hotel just to put food on the table. There’s also a drunkard who abuses his family’s riches; a lost porter who seeks a better life after encountering tragedy; and an army deserter trying to find his way home.
The stories interconnect in one way or another. Several characters cross over, including a two-note clarinet player who was told by the king to stop playing and then finds himself depressed and unaccepted for his choice of profession. The characters don’t know of each other prior to their brief encounters, and the viewer’s exposure to them is just as minimal. There isn’t too much time to latch onto the characters, but directors Marc James Roels and Emma De Swaef are able to bring about plenty of depth to each one. Some of the events that occur within each story are sudden, shocking, and even bleakly funny.
Those who don’t know much about the history of Belgium and King Leopold’s reign – including myself – won’t be too lost in the film’s symbolism. There may be some questions raised, and further research may be required to truly understand it all. But, despite all that, This Magnificent Cake! is still one of the best animated features to come out this year.
The Blu-ray for This Magnificent Cake! comes in a 1920x1080p resolution with a 1.66:1 aspect ratio. The visuals are a spectacle to behold, even if the movie is a little dark and heavy in its exploration. The detail to the fabric-created characters is incredible, and seeing some of the objects (water, for example) in this fashion is something to which words won’t do justice. The audio track is 5.1 surround and 2.0 stereo, capturing all the sounds excellently.
The special features include a 2012 short film from De Swaef and Roels called Oh, Willy… and a 2017 short from Niki Lindroth von Bahr called The Burden. Oh, Willy… is done in the same, creative style as This Magnificent Cake!, and is just as fascinating to watch, while The Burden is a bit more on the disturbing side, but still looks incredible. There is also an interview with Roels and a behind-the-scenes gallery.
It won’t be a surprise if, come Oscar time, This Magnificent Cake! will be one of the nominees in the animated short films category. It’s one of the most unique animated films to come out in years and one of 2019’s absolute best.