With a scenario that is both clever and philosophical, and a visual style that adds to the mysteries it presents, the animated film, "The Painting," takes the tropes of artistic creation and uses them to create a sprawling universe within a fantasy of oppression and love.

"The Painting" screens at Images Cinema on Tuesday, Jan. 14, at7 p.m.

Inside a painting exists an entire world populated by three kinds of people. There are the Alldunns (figures the Painter completed), the Halfies (figures that are only partly done) and the Sketchies (figures that never went past the sketch stage). The Alldunns look down on the other two groups, confining the Halfies to a cave as long as they don't bother anyone else, but hunting down the Sketchies for sport.

Within this world live Ramo, the Alldunn, and Claire, the Halfie, who are having a romance at great risk to their lives. The two meet while Claire's best friend, Lola, keeps watch, but an incident on a boat leads to Claire and Ramo, along with a Sketchie named Quill, being swept out of their immediate living area and into a place that offers them access to more than they ever expected existed -- beyond their universe, the Painter's studio.

A heady adventure follows, as the three escapees encounter other paintings, sometimes getting lost in them, sometimes communicating with the figures that inhabit them, but each time learning something about the almighty Painter himself and getting one step closer to solving their own problems, which are currently tearing apart the world of their own painting.

Transferring the concept of separate magical lands into the tidy conceit of multiple paintings, the film uses a variation of intelligent design well, since what is the quest for the Painter but a quest for God? The figures in the painting are filled with speculation and debate on the nature of the Painter, what the Painter intended, whether the Painter will return -- it's not exactly subtle, but it works well in the context.

The film's strength -- aside from the lovely animation and the strong female lead of Lola -- is an understanding that each painting (and therefore world) is a reflection of the Painter's personalities, interests, loves, not just random places that make for a good adventure. It's through this panorama that the Painter becomes a character worth speculating about, particularly as the tiny figures creep around his studio and interrogate other figures, including a self-portrait. They all add up to one person, but is that the same person the figures imagined creating them?

And while the film examines the idea that the god you believe in might not be the god that is there, it is also point blank in its criticism of using belief in a god as a source of prejudice and control. With the suppression and torture of the Halfies and Sketchies being justified by interpretation of the Painter's actions, The Painting shows itself to be a representation not just of art and not just of creation, but of the eyes of the beholder, and how they reflect, distort, embrace, use the creation for their own purposes and needs.