‘World of Tomorrow’
The animator Don Hertzfeldt has never sold out, and his shtick is so unique that those who couldn’t buy him simply ripped him off instead. But he’s not so easily copied, and he’s not so easily pegged down. To say he makes goofy stick-figure toons is to miss how deeply strange and, at the same time, deeply, profoundly sad they are. Even his early breakthroughs — “Billy’s Balloon,” in which kids are terrorized by sentient, psychotic balloons, and the Oscar-nominated “Rejected” — are steeped in existential despair. He’s “matured” over the years, but in the best ways; he’s more serious, but still eccentrically silly, and he’s found ways to turn stick figure animation into things of rich visual beauty.
His latest, the short “World of Tomorrow,” builds on both the cosmic indifference that marked his sole feature so far, “It’s Such a Beautiful Day,” and his brilliant “Simpsons” couch gag from last year, in which the family are seen in the deep, distant future as no more than catchphrase-spewing blobs. “Tomorrow” offers another grim jaunt into the future, with a third-generation clone hob-nobbing with the child version of her original self. But their union is a stalemate: the clone (with a stern British accent) coldly rattles off horrific and often creatively absurd facts about the looming final end of whatever humanity became, oblivious to the fact that the little girl, no more than four, can only focus on pretty shapes and colors. And there are pretty shapes and colors, Hertzfeldt’s bold black lines drawn on eye-searing color backgrounds that change on a whim. You’re forced to fight between paying attention to the verbal (and visual) jokes of this bleak future and the beauty on display. It’s a literally gorgeous downer.