PICK OF THE WEEK: Accidents, Blunders and Calamities (CGI Animation)

Blake Harris 06.28.2016

If possums read bedtime stories to their children, what kind of stories would they read? Filmmaker James Cunningham and his students at New Zealand’s Media Design School posited that perhaps they read cautionary tales about the most deadly predator out there: humans! To bring this notion to life, they produced a beautiful and hilarious animated short entitled Accidents, Blunders and Calamities, which we’ve selected as our PICK OF THE WEEK.

Inspired by Edward Gorey’s Gashlycrumb Tinies (which whimsically chronicles 26 deadly scenarios faced by children with names A-Z), Accidents, Blunders and Calamities–as told by a father possum to his young–recounts  untimely demise of 26 creatures. This CGI animation was directed by filmmaker and animator James Cunningham, who has directed eleven award winning short films. Cunningham is based in Auckland, New Zealand and is a Senior Lecturer at Media Design School, where he created this film with a team of 44 students.

Accidents, Blunders and Calamities premiered last October at the Show Me Shorts Film Festival. Since the world premiere, the animated film has played at several prominent festivals, including Annecy and SXSW. And after months of racking up awards and praise, Accidents, Blunders and Calamities debuted online this week and, shortly thereafter, was selected as IdeaRocket’s PICK OF THE WEEK. Here’s the film…

[vimeo video_id=”172490277″ width=”400″ height=”300″ title=”Yes” byline=”Yes” portrait=”Yes” autoplay=”No” loop=”No” color=”00adef”]


  • Director: James Cunningham
  • Producer: James Cunningham, Oliver Hilbert
  • Screenwriter: James Cunningham
  • Cinematographer: Oliver Hilbert
  • Editor: James Cunningham
  • Sound Designer: Dave Whiehead, Michelle Child
  • Music: Emile de la Rey
  • Principal Cast: Phillip Greeves, Drew Cunningham, Eleanor Cunningham

3 Things We Loved About This CGI Animation

1. The Narrative Framing Device

Given that both the meat and the hook of this video are the 26 vignettes of, well, accidents, blunders and calamities, it would have been very easy (and perhaps seemingly logical) to just dive right into telling that story. Essentially, the film would start with the opening of a storybook (which it does) and then move right into victim A. Like this:

Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 5.01.45 PMScreen Shot 2016-06-28 at 5.02.17 PM

But instead of just diving into the water, Cunningham & Co. give us some depth to the narrative pool they’ve created by framing the incidents depicted throughout most of the video as a storybook being read by a possum to his two children. So instead, the story opens like this:

There are many values to framing the story in this manner, but the biggest one is tone. Although the majority of this film is about death and destruction, it is–very much like Gorey’s Gashlycrumb Tinies–a sweetly told and upbeat tale. That’s a tone  hard to accomplish given the subject matter, but it’s a tone which is achieved by beginning viewers with this sweet, familial possum-led trajectory. As a result, here’s how the story actually opens:

Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 5.01.45 PMScreen Shot 2016-06-28 at 5.01.52 PMScreen Shot 2016-06-28 at 5.01.58 PMScreen Shot 2016-06-28 at 5.02.02 PM Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 5.02.05 PMScreen Shot 2016-06-28 at 5.02.04 PM 1 

This moment above–where the two little possums tangle for position–is my favorite of the film (and the moment where I’m emotionally all in for what’s ahead).

Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 5.02.12 PMScreen Shot 2016-06-28 at 5.02.13 PM

2. H & O

Things did not go so well for Hannah the Hedgehog…

Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 5.16.53 PMScreen Shot 2016-06-28 at 5.16.55 PMScreen Shot 2016-06-28 at 5.16.56 PMScreen Shot 2016-06-28 at 5.16.56 PM 1 

Nor for Ollie The Octopus…

Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 5.17.39 PMScreen Shot 2016-06-28 at 5.17.41 PM  Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 5.17.42 PMScreen Shot 2016-06-28 at 5.17.43 PM

3. More to the Story

Although the sentimentalist in me was a bit heartbroken by the ending (especially after establishing those adorable little possums in the opening!), I greatly appreciated that the film didn’t just end at Z. In fact, I felt a palpable sense of giddiness at the 3:15 mark when I realized that we’d gone through the alphabet and still had nearly 2 minutes remaining (including credits, of course). When it comes to animated films–be they CGI shorts or explainer videos–there’s often a sense of viewer exhaustion that sets in towards the second half of the film. So creating that moment that Accidents, Blunders and Calamities did–that genuine giddiness of anticipation–is a major feat. Well done, Media Design School. Well done indeed.

Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 5.32.06 PMScreen Shot 2016-06-28 at 5.32.11 PMScreen Shot 2016-06-28 at 5.32.30 PMScreen Shot 2016-06-28 at 5.32.42 PM    

Media Design School (MDS) is New Zealand’s most awarded tertiary institution for creative and digital technology qualifications, offering a range of courses in Game Art, Game Programming, Graphic Design, Creative Advertising, Motion Graphics, Interactive Design, and 3D Animation and Visual Effects. To learn more about MDS, please visit

Similar Stories