There’s a certain magic to stop-motion animation–the animation technique that makes physically manipulated objects, like clay figurines, look like they’re moving on their own. It seems honest and unpolished, evoking the same kind of feeling we get from wooden toys. It’s one of the reasons that holiday TV specials like “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” are so universally compelling.
The new animated movie The Esrog: The Stories of the Baal Shem Tov, based on a 17th-century Hasidic tale, has that magic. With wobbly animals, wide-eyed characters, and long wispy beards made of yarn, The Esrog, the creation of animator Tawd Dorenfeld, is a whimsical story, and it’s now available on DVD.
Dovid, a poor man living on a simple farm, is determined to buy the most beautiful citron in the world for the holiday of Sukkot–so he sets aside a single coin each day. But fate, the other villagers, and the circumstances of his impoverished life stand in his way. It’s a sweet, sappy, but nonetheless compelling story that tugs on our heartstrings in that familiar way, half old-world legend, and half–yes–Christmas special.