A stick figure lead has been a staple in Ann Marie Fleming's animated films for some time. It's not that she's incapable of more detail; it's that, as a "blank" figure, the stick figure heroine offers an easy protagonist onto which a viewer can project themselves.
Window Horses is so much about protagonist Rosie Ming's identity, so having a representation that you can hang whatever you'd like on is useful. Rosie, voiced by Sandra Oh, is a Francophile fry cook living in Canada but who yearns to visit Paris. She finds an outlet for her love through poetry, though no one around her is aware of it until she self-publishes a book that garners her an invitation to a poetry festival in Iran.
There, she quickly discovers how narrow her experiences to date have been. She's unaware of the cultural norms of Iran, even of the legacy of Persian poetry — not to mention the world, in general, outside her everyday experience. While learning more about her long absent father, she begins a personal and artistic evolution.
Rosie experiences the work of others as personal visions, and the audience gets to experience something similar. Fleming invites guest animators to make episodes in the film, individual poems, chunks of Ming's backstory, the history of her absent father and the background of the poets of the region. It offers some of the strongest work in the film, as it recognizes each poem as a subjective experience both outside of and in conversation with the rest of the film.
The conversation gets blunter in some cases than others, though, even though the key journey is an interesting one to watch unfold. Characters very plainly state meaning at times, with a few awkward lines falling flat as they tell where Fleming should have shown. A lighter touch might have been more successful.
Ming manages to speak a couple of words of any language she encounters, but doesn't manage to hold a conversation in anything but English. It's a lovely suggestion that she needs to put work into understanding herself and those around her, more effective than when similar sentiments get stated overly plainly elsewhere in the film. (Mongrel Media)