Essays · Movies

‘World of Tomorrow’ is 2015’s Movie of the Year

As part of our 2015 Year in Review, we’ve chosen Don Hertzfeldt’s beautiful animated short ‘World of Tomorrow’ as Movie of the Year. Christopher Campbell explains why.
World Of Tomorrow Article
Bitter Films
By  · Published on December 23rd, 2015

It began back in January. As is often the case, the Sundance Film Festival kicked off the conversation about the year’s best, but this time something unusual kept popping up amongst the buzz about the indie features and documentaries showing in Park City. Everyone was talking about an animated short called World of Tomorrow.

After a trailer hit the web with more distinct and honorable praise than is typically found with Sundance sensations, the film became one of the must-see titles of SXSW, and then it arrived online in late March for all to see and believe the hype. Nobody seemed to be disappointed with it, certainly not any of our team. Unlike all other contenders for our choice for 2015 movie of the year, this one sparked no debate.

World of Tomorrow (not to be confused with Tomorrowland) is the latest from Oscar-nominated filmmaker Don Hertzfeldt (Rejected), and his first fully digitally animated work. The sci-fi adventure, which follows more of the director’s typical stick-figure characters, covers more ground for the genre in its brief 16-minute running time, including time travel and space travel, than any feature we saw in the past 12 months.

At its center, though, is simply the most lovable character of the year, a four-year-old girl named Emily. She’s voiced by Hertzfeldt’s young niece, Winona Mae, who provided her lines unscripted while the two drew pictures together. There’s an authentic, almost documentary quality to the character, then, even while she’s spending the whole film traversing and commenting on strange things she encounters in the distant future.

Her guide is an adult clone of herself, a few generations down the line (voiced by fellow animator Julia Pott). While they explore the universe and Emily Clone’s memories of strange romances and strange art exhibits and the melancholic spectacle of dead people burning through the atmosphere, the elder, later version narrates what they’re seeing. However, it’s little Emily Prime who provides the more significant (and definitely more adorable) commentary.

Everything you could want from a sci-fi movie is in here, including aliens and robots and paradoxes, plus new ideas like the Outernet. But it also deals with more real and universal human concepts like the wise innocence of youth and the things we learn and the things we let go of as we get older – or replicate. We forget we’re watching crude drawings of people amidst surreal landscapes as we find identification within such a strange story.

A big reason we’re so excited to honor World of Tomorrow with the title of movie of the year is that it’s the rare short film that is treated by many fans as an equal to all other movies released in 2015 (and at any time). Film School Rejects has been a champion of shorts from the start, showcasing them daily when we can. And Hertzfeldt has been a favorite of ours, whether we’re seeing his work at festivals or streaming them online.

These days, there’s no reason to discriminate shorts like this when considering the best of the year. Even if you want to disregard something, still, for being distributed on the web, World of Tomorrow is undeniably a cinematic work, one we as a team (namely Rob) and as a community first saw on the big screen. Not everyone can make it to festivals, though, and brilliant shorts deserve to be seen. In 2015, no short should be hidden.

But they also shouldn’t necessarily be free, which is another thing that can cause shorts to be thought of as lesser films. World of Tomorrow is available to rent, because it’s not just something produced by a filmmaker looking to get notice on the way to bigger things. Hertzfeldt is already a big deal, and his latest has a lot of value on its own.

Check it out below via Vimeo On Demand if you haven’t – or even if you have, since it gets better and better with each viewing – and see what everyone’s been talking about.

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.