The Old Man Movie: Lactopalypse: a madcap Estonian stop-motion comedy

The race is on to find an escaped prized cow before its udders explode and cause a ‘Lactopalypse’ in this funny, puerile yet somehow sweet-natured animation.

The Old Man Movie: Lactopalypse! (2019)
The Old Man Movie: Lactopalypse! (2019)Courtesy of 606 Distribution

If the Czech filmmaker Jan Švankmajer and the South Park crew launched a joint takeover of Aardman Animation, they might come up with something as surreal and puerile as this madcap, very funny, somehow sweet-natured Estonian stop-motion comedy. Expanding on the viral Vanamehe Multikas web series of shorts, starring the cheerfully sinister Old Man farmer character, the feature raises its narrative stakes to a potential ruminant apocalypse, while the bodily function-and bovine-inspired clowning is arguably filthier than ever. Call it Creature Discomforts.

The story’s bizarre background is laid out in an archive newsreel style reminiscent of Pixar’s The Incredibles (2004) or Up (2009): successful farmer Old Milker loses it all in a mushroom cloud of dairy when his prize cow explodes after not being milked. Cut to the present day, and now another farmer, the Old Man, provides the neighbourhood with milk from his prize heifer. When his hapless grandchildren Aino, Priidik and little Mart arrive from the city to stay, however, things go awry. 

The kids accidentally allow the cow to escape, resulting in a desperate pursuit to prevent another ‘Lactopalypse’ as the rogue animal’s udders swell. Watching these events, the deranged Old Milker, now a disgusting part-man-part-milk hybrid, seizes his chance for revenge, hiring three local unemployed workers armed with chainsaws to hunt down the cow themselves.

The rudimentary animation style is part of the film’s rough-hewn charms – the clay figures’ pasty faces, bulbous appendages and immobile mouths almost daring the audience to connect with its basic, unrefined characters and aesthetics. In their first feature, writer-directors Oskar Lehemaa and Mikk Mägi also provide several incongruous character voices, bringing a welcome adult edge to the crude slapstick and toilet humour. The only slick things on view here are Old Milker’s oozing creamy tears and -buttermilk blood.

The cow-chase plot allows for an expanded series of loosely connected vignettes in which Lehemaa and Mägi really go for broke. There’s a woodland hippie festival whose supposedly free-loving participants get gleefully – and literally – skewered; a horny ancient tree spirit with a novel use for a tractor; and a super-sized villain showdown which recalls certain Disney or Transformers climactic battles, but which heads in a gross-out gag direction no family-friendly film would dare go. 

It’s fascinating, though, how such an unrepentant film also espouses right-on messages: city kids glued to their phones need to commune more with nature, and animal rights trump enslaved dairy production. Thankfully, this is never at the expense of outlandish visuals, a well-timed swear word or a flatulent pig. If that’s your kind of animated critter feature, you’re in for a grand day out. 

 ► The Old Man Movie: Lactopalypse! is in UK cinemas from 2 June.