Millions of dollars are spent on special effects and hiring the best talent on screen. These days, throwing absurd amounts of money has almost become fashionable among studio executives. This goes for both movies and television shows.
In search of a mass hit that seems elusive in trying times for the industry, most lose sight of the most important thing. When kept simple and executed with a sincere heart it can instantly elevate content. So what is this illusive ‘thing’? Story.
Lost Ollie, on Netflix, has probably the most endearing of stories told through the eyes of a beloved toy. Shannon Tindle, the creator, nails the “KISS” formula – Keep It Simple, Silly. All she has is a story with a clean heart and a determination to let it do the talking.
Not to say that the talent to bind the narrative in a special way isn’t there, but the most basic requirement is fulfilled beyond everything else. Tindle scrapped the earlier plan to make it eight parts long with half-hour episodes and in hindsight, it seems a very good decision.
At just four episodes long, the pace becomes Lost Ollie’s valuable ally. Not just in the sense that it helps give the storytelling better shape, it more or less compels directors to follow the KISS formula. Their hand is forced to limit exposition and keep the focus on translating the story from paper to screen without too much glam.
Lost Ollie tells the story of Ollie, a patchwork stuffed bunny separated from his best friend, Billy. The problem with getting back is that he cannot remember the “where, why, and how” to get back to his home.
A seemingly kind clown, Zozo, and his cold-hearted warrior-like friend, Rosie, a pink grizzly, accompany him on the journey. Ollie uses a gold star given to him by Billy, and a memory map from the house, to navigate his way home.
Along the way, he learns some shocking truths about his family and his friends on the adventure, shrouding his happy return in doubt. Despite being mostly targeted toward children, Lost Ollie boasts a bleak, aesthetical visual template. It is not often you would see such a color palette fill a story about talking toys.
But that is probably because the limited series speaks to a larger idea. In fact, the crispness in execution flows from an astute thought process to outline the story. From the very first moment, a creative choice is made to expand the bond between Ollie to include the entire Wiles family.
The narration is tailored to simultaneously tell another story of how Billy is thrust into dire straits after his mother is diagnosed with cancer and the family cannot risk surgery – financially or emotionally.
It is a bold move that pays off accretive dividends to the watching experience. Lost Ollie’s dialogues are plain, easy to understand, and deeply profound, laced with meaning. Characters break into songs more often than not, adding another plus for a wholesome family viewing experience.
The fact that the ingredients of its story are family-oriented does not prevent Tindle from showcasing mature, more solemn themes that one might not associate with such a show.
One of my favorite bits from the series was the origin story of Zozo, replete with a shattering voiceover by Tim Nelson Blake in episode 3. The quality all around is shockingly good and it’s one of the highlights of the show. What this segment does is put things into perspective and maybe alleviate Zozo’s villainous shadow that grew stronger in the second half.
The clown turning into a lost soul looking for the love of his life is a tragedy equivalent to the Shakespearian pedigree, told with the innocence and heart of a child.
Lost Ollie is engulfed with warmth and love so familiar to what we feel in our childhoods. Ollie and Billy’s point of view of seeing things around them is expectedly jovial and naïve, but also surprisingly insightful. Despite not having the numbers in their age, the pair’s kindness and sense of compassion fill the storytelling with a familiarity that can really show you, love.
In the last episode, “Home” is where most will give in to their instincts and the barriers to the dams will strike wide open. All you will feel is an appreciation for what you have, admiration for what you see, and comfort in what will come. Netflix has just got its most compelling story of the year.
Verdict - 9/10