In a sense, all animated movement is choreographed. Although it’s more often described in terms of acting or puppeteering, the conscious arrangement of movement within the frame is essentially a dance—at the very least, it’s every bit as rigorously thought out. Most techniques don’t allow for anything like an unplanned movement, and even from the earliest days, animators recognized the emotional impact of synchronizing sound and movement in ways that are far more intricately interlinked than is possible with live action.

Jean-Charles Mbotti Malalo takes things one step further, though. As soon as his 2007 student film transitions from a series of warm Polaroids to the more complex reality, the film becomes a dance. Each movement has rhythm, intent, fluidity, and weight; there’s a precision to it that can only come from someone who’s put a lot of thought into the meaning of movement.

Mbotti Malalo’s movements communicate a lot, from anger and resentment to joy, hesitation and sadness. It’s no surprise, then, that non-verbal communication is a major theme in his work. In La Coeur est un Metronome, it’s the ability of dance to bridge a relationship—at least temporarily. Four years later, the director would follow his student work with Le Sens du Toucher, adding sign language into the mix. In 2017, he would bring is choreography to the stage. Even his poster for the 60th annual Annecy Festival carries the energy of dance in its static frame. In each case, his work acts as a beautiful example of the difference between choreography as a metaphor, and choreography as a artistic practice fully integrated into animation.


Le Coeur est un Metronome (The Heart is a Metronome)

dir: Jean-Charles Mbotti Malolo

syn: A quick-tempered father argues with his son last time. The child decides to leave the family home. Dancing is the high point of the exchanges between the two characters because it is their only means of communication.

Bonus Material: Back in 2018, animation studio Tonko House hosted a conversation with Mbotti Malolo about his most recent film, Make It Soul as part of their Tonkocast series:

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