One filmmaker working on a feature-length stop-motion animated film with dolls and other materials constructed by hand must be an act of obsession--in this case, one that is reported to have taken 13 years to complete. Reflecting that, "Blood Tea and Red String" concerns dollmakers and puppeteers obsessing over and maneuvering for control of a doll, its animation and of the life borne from it. It even infects their dreams, drug-induced hallucinations and drawings. It's why so much time is spent focused on the sewing and other workings of creation, as well as destruction. That the puppeteers happen to be mice and the dollmakers some rat or wolf-like creatures with crow beaks only puts a fairy-tale layer atop what is essentially a film about its own making. It also helps that hand-crafted, personal touch pays off with some beautiful animation, undiluted by dialogue, but with a pleasant score and effective sound effects.
In the largely live-action bookend scenes, the filmmaker plants the germ of an idea--with an egg that flows downstream for the fairyland creatures. The dollmakers sew this egg into their doll, which the puppeteers steal after the doll-making "Oak Dwellers," as the film's maker, Christiane Cegavske, calls them, refuse to sell the commissioned puppet. After the egg hatches, and the bluebird flies away, one of the mice is inspired to write down the story in pictograph form. Meanwhile, the shaman frog reads the scrolls, the spider spins yarns, and the dollmakers retrieve the hatched idea and send it back down the stream to be unraveled and crystalized by the live-action animator's hand.
As for the fairy-tale layer itself, I was rather flummoxed by what I suspected might be religious symbolism. There's the Moses myth with the floating down stream business, with the animator's hand naturally being the creator, the god, of this film. Then, the Oak Dwellers hang the doll on their tree in a crucifixion pose, a position the mice will also put it in at various times. There is also the doll's stigmata-like hand holes for the mice to employ the Christ doll as a string puppet. Conversely, one may see the female-gendered doll as a Virgin Mary type birthing the blue jay. There's even the business of resurrections with the frog's hearts, plus the forbidden fruit.
On the other hand, I like others' interpretations just as well if not more so. The guy on the DVD's commentary track brings up "The Lord of the Rings" and "Pinocchio," among other things, and he and Cegavske briefly discuss the works of Beatrix Potter. There's the Labyrinth going back to Greek mythology, and elements such as tree dwellers and mystical gardens are fairy-tale staples. Better still is Tedg's IMDb review where he claims the fantasy to be the inverse of Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland," of the animals dreaming Alice. After all, there is a mad tea party, with the playing of cards and even a raven--once again raising the riddle of how a raven is like a writing desk. There are chattering flowers to go along with the anthropomorphic animals, there's the recurring theme of consuming food and drink--sometimes with psychedelic effects--and, again, there are the hearts, and, clearly, the film's favorite color is red--red string and red-blooded tea, although it's the spider that cuts off the heads. Caterpillars, however, are merely food here.
Cegavske avoids explaining the picture in the DVD commentary for a reason. It's ambiguous and symbolic enough to recall many a fairy tale and original enough to be of its own creation. Moreover, Cegavske claims she doesn't know the whole story of these creatures, as though, as within the film, the dolls were the ones who presented the story--the inanimate doll, via the egg, to the animated dolls that are the dollmakers and puppeteers, to the live-action hand of the creator and, finally, to us.