Stage Fright is a 1997 BAFTA-winning animated short by Aardman Animations. It was written and directed by Steve Box, who animated on A Close Shave and, later, co-directed The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.
The film tells the story of Tiny, a music hall has-been whose dog-juggling act is upstaged by the blooming medium of motion pictures. His friend Daphne stars in many of these films as the love interest to the character "Lonesome Arnold," whose actor, Mr. Hugh, is a brute once the cameras stop running. As Daphne's career prospers and Tiny's career disappears, Hugh exploits both of them by getting Tiny to train the dogs for his films, mostly so Daphne will keep acting in them.
Tropes appearing in Stage Fright include:
- Ambiguous Ending: What happens once Daphne and Tiny exit the crumbling theater? Do they die? Do the Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence? Are they going on to a better life? You decide!
- Chekhov's Gun: Tiny uses the hat trick he teaches to his dogs to bite Mr. Hugh when he's harming Daphne.
- Chekhov's Gunman: The theater organist briefly seen near the beginning comes back later to bring Tiny back up from the pit, and bring Mr. Hugh down into it.
- Did Not Think This Through: One of the dogs' tricks is to jump up and place a hat on someone's head when they say "Hat!" Tiny neglects the fact that Hugh is twice his height when Hugh wants to use the trick in one of his films and the dog ends up only going as high as his nose, biting him when he does.
- The Dog Bites Back: Hugh's abuse of Tiny eventually leads to one of his dogs biting Hugh on the nose. Twice.
- End of an Age: Downplayed. In the beginning, Tiny and his dogs are facing this when their vaudeville act is being overshadowed by Hugh's films. But in the end, Daphne implies to him that he can make a comeback, despite film's popularity.
- Enemy to All Living Things: Hugh. He couldn't care less about the dogs' well being so long as they perform, and they hate him equally.
- Evil Redhead: Mr. Hugh, who is shown to be a heartless monster, has long red hair that stands straight up.
- Evil Sounds Deep:
- The ghostly organist speaks with a deep voice in his sole line.
- Mr. Hugh himself has a rather deep, growly voice, and he's a real nasty piece of work.
- Four Eyes, Zero Soul: The wicked Mr. Hugh always wears a pair of round glasses.
- How We Got Here: The film begins with Tiny training the dogs, but Hugh enters and starts bullying him. It ends with this scene's aftermath.
- Ironic Death: When cornered by Tiny's dogs, Hugh pulls out a large metal pin to beat them up... unaware that it was there to hold up the same projection screen on which his movies were shown. The screen drops on his head and kills him instantly.
- New Media Are Evil: Tiny and his once-popular dog-juggling act are ruined thanks to the emergence of film.
- Nice Character, Mean Actor: Mr. Hugh plays the hero in his series of short films, but off the camera, he blackmails and abuses his costars.
- Ominous Pipe Organ: This type of music is heard frequently throughout the short. The theater itself has an organ, played by a mysterious man in a white robe. Near the end, it turns out that the organist is actually a ghost, and when Mr. Hugh dies, the organist comes to take his soul to hell, while playing some especially ominous music.
- Shout-Out: Hugh kicking the bucket as a sign that he kicked the bucket is one to It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.
- Stop Motion Animation
- The Narrator: Daphne plays this throughout the short.
- The Show Must Go On: Daphne says this to Tiny when he's afraid to perform his act. It becomes a Meaningful Echo when she says it to persuade him to leave the crumbling theater. The overall message of the film is that staying in the past may feel safe but eventually, you have to face the future.
- Truth in Television: Films were originally shown alongside vaudeville acts in their infancy, eventually eclipsing the live acts entirely. Most early cinemas were even converted vaudeville theaters.