“Dying is one of my least favorite things to do”
Short films, even when they breakthrough to viral status, never achieve the kind of attention that feature length films do. With the exception of Pixar and the rare other example, they rarely even receive a wide release and tend to play merely at festivals or as part of the annual package of Oscar nominated ones that gets a limited release before they wind up on the internet or occasionally premium cable. You’ll also rarely see them mentioned among the best films of the year and thanks to Oscar rules, any short under 40 minutes is ineligible for that top prize. Despite all that, the best film of 2015 was without a doubt Don Hertzfeldt’s World of Tomorrow (which in one of the worst Oscar decisions ever, was robbed of the Best Animated Short Film win).
Hertzfeldt has been long known for his animation in such circles with such works as Billy’s Balloon (where I first saw his work), Rejected (his most famous work which netted him his first Oscar nomination), The Meaning of Life, Wisdom Teeth, and perhaps his finest work, the three-part masterpiece It’s Such a Beautiful Day. He also did the best Simpsons couch gag which gave him probably his biggest audience to date as well as the graphic novel The End of the World (which I thumb through it all every few months and was partially adapted by World of Tomorrow) and a short webcomic “Anesthetics” which was adapted into Wisdom Teeth and loosely into It’s Such a Beautiful Day.
His works started out mostly as “merely” darkly comedic fare, but starting with The Meaning of Life, they started to incorporate more serious and contemplative fare to that dark humor. His simplistic art style which has recurred throughout his career (and was ripped off by Pop Tarts and is done as a one-man crew is distinctive and effective, occasionally blending with live action and growing more and more skilled as his career has progressed.
The first World of Tomorrow short was his first foray into digital animation, crafting a sci-fi story from the ramblings of his four-year-old niece into a brilliant work of art. It told of Emily Prime (Winona Mae), a young girl visited by her third-generation clone from the future (played by Julia Pott) who in the face of the impending death of life on Earth has traveled back in time to SPOILERS THOUGH REALLY JUST GO WATCH IT ALREADY, JEEZ extract a memory of Emily Prime’s mother END OF SPOILERS after taking Emily Prime through a series of her own memories and experiences of love, loss, and of something that as always felt missing from her life. The short is hilarious and heartwarming and moving, moving between and blending together the three seamlessly in 16 glorious minutes. I have loved it from the first time I saw it and my appreciation for it only grows each time I put it on or look at my desktop, which has had the below image as my background since it was released.
The story sure felt complete after the first short, but when the sequel was announced, in Hertzfeldt I trusted. Well today, after having a festival premiere earlier this year and months of eager waiting, that sequel was released online to my utter delight. And thankfully after those months of waiting, the film is every bit as special as I could have hoped for.
While not specified by the short, World of Tomorrow Episode 2 presumably takes place not long after the first (with Mae being a year older at time of recording) with Emily Prime visited by a future, albeit more hollow clone (still played by Pott), this time well after the destruction of Earth. Of course, this answers the question I was skeptical of (whether or not the rich who transported themselves off-world survived) and offers us more of a look into the future world Hertzfeldt has dreamed up.
There’s more of an emphasis this time on the talk of the natures of clones and memories as the story is somehow even more surreal, sliding through Emily Prime’s life as well as the lives and memories of all those who came before. As Emily Prime and Emily 6 merge their minds together, we watch as memories distort and slip, the animation crackling in that distinctive Hertzfeldt way. The digital effects are even more gorgeous and pronounced this time out with backgrounds of breathtaking beauty complemented by the strings of classical music, some of which hearken back to the first.
Mae’s portrayal of Emily Prime is just as adorable as ever and even funnier, making the most of her increased vocal time to somehow be slightly more coherent and yet more absurdist. Pott’s various roles on the other hand manage the tricky task of both tying into her portrayal from last time, a dry and frequently sarcastic clone, with making the various characters still feel like slightly different characters. Characters who should by all rights should be identical, but aren’t because who we are is informed by our memories. It’s an even trickier performance than last time but she does fantastic work.
When the short started up, a brief thought of both concern and delight at the prospect of it being twenty-one minutes (six minutes longer than the first), but the time flies and the ending was on me before I knew it. It’s perfectly portioned and never repetitive, the length keeping with the feel of this being a sequel that naturally expands and goes bigger than the predecessor. I can’t say the film sets up a sequel or that I need one, but it leaves me wanting more of Emily and more of that crazy mind of hers.
For the second time this week, a film has been released that I wish I could have ranked at the top of my best of list for the year. I’m not sure whether this would have displaced Mother! as my top film because frankly they are both truly special works of art. Instead, I’ll just appreciate the way that this great year of film managed to produce two instant classics.
A couple housekeeping notes to finish things up. World of Tomorrow Episode 2 wasn’t nominated for this year’s ceremony, a fact that pissed me off until I realized it wasn’t eligible due to the weird August 31st release date cut off (so it is eligible for the 2019 ceremony). Also, as a note for those waiting for this to turn up on Netflix (just give the man his five bucks regardless, it’s worth it), “there are no current plans for the film to turn up on netflix, hulu, itunes, etc (in fact, i’m afraid the first “world of tomorrow” is due to leave netflix in the spring)”.