Don Hertzfeldt’s World of Tomorrow arrives like a life-preserver, here to save us all from a vast, cruel sea comprised of dull, bloated feature-length films with astronomical budgets and zero heart. Hertzfeldt’s 16 minute animated film is bursting with complexity and vision, bolstered by unexpected and at times devastating beauty. There is power enough in this short little masterpiece to soothe a damaged soul.
Hertzfeldt’s crude, often hilarious animation has made him a creative force to sit up and pay attention to. His bizarre, hysterical Rejected became something of a viral video sensation, and his feature It’s Such a Beautiful Day was considered one of the best animated films ever made. He wrote, animated and directed a recent two-minute long Simpsons couch gag that was probably the best thing to be associated with The Simpsons in almost twelve years.
Yet none of those accomplishments quite prepared me for World of Tomorrow. Hertzfeldt is a traditional animation filmmaker, usually working in pen and ink, but with World of Tomorrow he attempts his first entirely digital production. The medium acts as a freeing force for Hertzfeld, enabling him to use his trademark crude style to blend perfectly with gorgeous, ever-expanding landscapes.
The plot of World of Tomorrow is deceptively simple: a little girl named Emily is visited by a future version of herself. The future Emily takes the younger on a existential tour through various events in their shared life. Sort of. There’s much more to it, involving clones, and sentient robots on the moon programmed to fear death, and art galleries that display extracted memories of the dead. World of Tomorrow has more ideas in its brief run time than entire shared universe film franchises can pack into their super slick productions. That the ideas are successful, and heartfelt, is all the more remarkable.
Part of the charm comes from the vocal work of the two Emily’s. The future Emily, as voiced by illustrator Julia Pott, delivers lines in a frank, simultaneously hilarious and heartbreaking nature highlighted with a distinct British lilt. The younger Emily, called “Emily Prime”, is voiced by Winona Mae. Winona is Hertzfeldt’s four-year-old niece, and her lines were recorded while she and Hertzfeldt drew pictures and talked together. Hertzfeldt then took his niece’s recorded words and partially rewrote World of Tomorrow in order to match up with what Winona had said. It creates such a unique experience, and makes Emily instantly endearing.
World of Tomorrow is as perfect a film as you can hope for. It’s beautiful, sorrowful, imaginative, and most of all, wholly unique. In short, it’s a lot like an individual’s own life experience. Seek this movie out; if you have to beg or borrow to get your hands on a copy, don’t hesitate to do so. I can’t be any more clear: you must experience World of Tomorrow. Your life will be the better for it.