Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy? is a profoundly simple film, at least on paper. Michel Gondry sits down to talk with Noam Chomsky and makes it into a movie. The topics include Chomsky’s theories of linguistics, his early childhood, his ideas around the linguistics of early childhood, and a number of other wide-reaching but related subjects. Unadorned, such a documentary would be eminently watchable, if perhaps a bit tedious. Yet what Gondry has actually created is one of the most beautifully complex films of the year, and he does it entirely by way of hand-drawn animation. It’s a meeting of disciplines, one that takes a discussion of language and perception and uses its artistic sensibility to point out that maybe art and science are almost the same thing. With Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy?, Gondry has attempted to animate the mind.
Animation and verbal discussion are equals here, and the images do more than just dress up the words. Of course, they can’t obscure them either. Clever drawings of dogs, trees and rivers help explain Chomsky’s ideas in a way that makes them at least less befuddling than they would be normally. The first layer of the film is a very effective primer on some of the American academic’s signature concepts, aided by the historical and intellectual landscape into which he first proposed them. It also helps that the drawings themselves are so kinetic, charming and colorful, executed by Gondry himself along with animators Timothée Lemoine and Valérie Pirson.