Michael C. here. I couldn't wrap up my Sundance coverage without writing about this gem from one of my favorite filmmakers.
Fans of Don Hertzfeldt know there is little point in describing the plot of one of his films. His animated shorts operate on the director's unique blend of absurdist humor, philosophical wonderings, and sophisticated visuals masquerading as crude scribblings, not on traditional story beats. So when I say his new short, World of Tomorrow, is spectacular, right up there with his best work, you just have to take my word for it, so difficult is it to capture its odd appeal in words.
Hertzfeldt took on World of Tomorrow as a quick project between two massively ambitious undertakings, the upcoming Antarctica, his first full length feature, and It's Such a Beautiful Day, his recent triptych of shorts which combined represent one of the new century's indisputable masterpieces. It's a testament to Hertzfeldt's artistry that a project the filmmaker dashed off, relatively speaking, is still such a marvel.
World of Tomorrow represents two notable firsts for Hertzfeldt. It is the first foray into computer animation for a filmmaker that has spent his career as a champion of practical in-camera effects, and fittingly, this expansion into digital also marks his first attempt at science fiction. This new short is of a piece with Hertzfeldt's It Such a Beautiful Day trilogy and before that his The Meaning of Life, all films fascinated by the idea of what it is to be human. World of Tomorrow focuses on four year old Emily (voiced adorably by the director's own niece) who is contacted by a clone of herself from the future that proceeds to whisk her away for a tour of the universe many centuries down the road. It's a dark picture the film paints, but as usual, Hertzfeldt maintains boundless amusement at what a strange species we are, with our refusal to acknowledge our smallness in the universe, and the way we deliberately create technology which robs us of our humanity. All of it is delivered with Hertzfeldt's distinct carnival of non-sequiturs, surreal tangents, and odd beauty that can make you laugh one second and bring you to the edge of tears the next.
World of Tomorrow defies its classification as short, packing in several feature length films worth of ideas into its trim twenty minutes, covering everything from the perils of discount time travel to the benefits of programming robots to fear death. It is a film that once seen is not easily forgotten. It is a must-watch for fans of Hertzfeldt's. It is also a must-watch for non-fans, so they can get on board with one of the most exciting voices in film.