Control Bear: Wonder Garden is an animated short directed by former Studio Ghibli animator Yojiro Arai. The short was made as a promotion for a Japanese store called Control Bear, and centers around a little girl who sees a plush bear in a store window. The bear then magically seems to come alive and transports the girl to another place, leading to what I presume is supposed to be the eponymous "wonder garden". While watching the short, I can't help but feel it is an enlightening example of the different techniques that filmmakers have at their disposal when they want to get across a desired mood or style. Allow me to elaborate.

Wonder Garden goes about creating a dream-like, magical atmosphere. One of the most significant ways in which it accomplishes this is through its music. The mostly piano-driven score is more or less soothing and indicates a sense of gentleness and calm. It lets us know that what we're seeing is meant to be taken in in a positive state of wonder. After all, you could make the argument that a stuffed animal suddenly coming to life and transporting a little girl to a seemingly other realm could in another context be considered a bit alarming. Not every world of fantasy is a safe one, after all. Even seemingly wonderful and colorful lands such as Oz still have perils.

All of the short isn't even visually all that colorful. Despite the short's protagonist being transported to a colorful world at first, as she and the bears that join her advance, their surroundings start becoming increasingly darker and more dilapitated. But the music never changes. The same calming melody continues, which indicates to us as viewers that if there were danger near-by, the music would let us know. We've grown so accustomed to musical cues giving us clues as to what the tone of what we're seeing is that we've come to expect them. Maybe that's a way for film makers to subvert expectations in, say, the horror genre - create a sense of unease by not letting the audience know through music when something bad is about to happen. Once the viewer knows they can't trust the music to warn them of coming horrors, they'll be in a constant state of nervousness and dread.

But I'm getting sidetracked here - horror isn't what we're talking about. Although you could make the argument that with alterations, the short in question could be turned into something resembling horror; not only do the environments get a bit spooky as the short goes on, out of nowhere a gigantic robot bear appears from behind huge closed doors. Once again the music doesn't change so we know the sudden appearance of what in another film could be some sort of giant robot bear war machine isn't anything to be alarmed about. But change the music and suddenly the scene becomes a bit more alarming. That would be if not for the reactions of our protagonist.

This is one of the most significant ways in which the short delivers its mood to its viewer. The short positions us viewers as experiencing and discovering things with the little girl who is the short's protagonist. Her reactions let us know how we are to feel about what we are seeing. And for the most part, our protagonist is seen surprised at what she's seeing but never alarmed. And if she, in these situations has no cause for alarm, then we as viewer know we don't either.

Wonder Garden is a perfect example that you don't always need to verbalize everything and explicitly explain how things are to get the message across. Visual and musical cues can be just as important in films as dialogue and exposition. Not that there's anything wrong with exposition when it's handled well. Point being that it's when you know which techniques to utilize at what time that you get the best results.