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Music

Watch as Tom Waits narrates the animated short film ‘The Moon’s Milk’

Tom Waits has seemingly had a voice that arcs back through eternities since he emerged from the cradle. Now as the decades of hardwearing have honeyed his voice of sand and glue tones to bristling new depths, he could even rattle off a bailiff’s letter addressed to you and it would have some raspy comfort. Thus, when it comes to a whimsical tale that stretches back to 3.7 billion years ago when that big old luminous clay ball we call the moon was close enough for hardy spiders to slink up to on silk, his timeless timbre and performative ability proved the perfect fit.

The stunning short film is inspired by Italo Calvino’s wondrous short story The Distance of the Moon (although it peculiarly doesn’t seem to have been credited as such even though the similarities are self-evident). In Calvino’s Cosmicomics collection, science combines with dreamy prose to paint an expressionist picture of the world and universe over time. Originally published in Italian in 1965 and later translated to English in 1968, The Distance of the Moon remains the most stunning of the lot if only for the poetic opening paragraphs alone. 

In The Moon’s Milk, this tale is given a fresh reimaging, as groovy seafaring folks embark on Captain Millipede’s last lunar expedition to harvest the milk that seeps from the craters of the good old evening skylight. Therein, as the synopsis says, “The action takes place between the gravities of two heavenly bodies, which further complicates the attraction between the characters. Longing, missed signals, and mishaps lead to the enchantment of the heavens with music.”

The stunning stop motion animation took seven and a half years to make with every single frame painstakingly crafted. This alluring aesthetic is a feat of art and technology as almost a decade of artistry is rendered in high-definition tones.

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Aside from Waits taking on narration duty and a sweet chiming score crafted by Caroline Penwarden, the project has a few surprise musical connections too. As creator Ri Crawford writes on the projects old Kickstarter page: “I began outlining ideas and constructing The Moon’s Milk in early 2011. I machined the armatures for the puppets, cast their heads and hands, got some help with the clothes (Clyde’s sweater was knit by Diva Zappa! [Frank Zappa’s daughter]), and built the sets and a whole bunch of props and secondary puppets.”

Crawford’s devotion pours off the screen and the project as a whole is a celebration of the singular and determined artistry that so often can be found in the humble cottage industry of short films, but often isn’t translated to the big screen. Like a lot of Waits best music, The Moon’s Milk throws playfulness and poignancy into the same party and the result is a little snatch of beauty embalmed with a sense of childlike wonder.

Enjoy the short film beloow.