Gopher Broke and Birthday Boy

Continuing the reviews from the Northwest Film Forum:

Gopher Broke: Brightly lit and full of color, Gopher Broke was the short this year most likely to remind you of the cartoon studio past. The best reason to see this offering from Blur Studios is its snappy animation; the facial expressions and exaggerated double-takes will make you smile in spite of yourself. I say in spite, because there is essentially one joke and it’s not a particularly new one. The final gag, involving a cow’s behind suspended in slow motion, is probably more South Park than Tom and Jerry, but I laughed all the same. Gopher Broke has a story that feels like it was written by a committee and a long list of credits that supports that hypothesis, but the execution is so entertaining it’s not hard to see why it made the nomination list.

Birthday Boy: I was surprised by how much I disliked this short. Another nominee in 3D, Birthday Boy boasts some impressively detailed environments rich with rust and vast spaces. The “camera” is held almost entirely on the Korean boy throughout, which is unfortunate, because he never does anything particularly interesting. We watch him play “war games” the synopsis says, but essentially we are seeing him hum to himself, run through the street, hide behind things while making shooting sounds, and spend an excruciatingly long time flattening a metal screw. While he plays there are some indications that a front is nearby, but the irony that he is making light of a deadly subject while the war creeps closer seems to intend to shock me far more than it does.

Everything was a bit tainted by the awkward, robotic, graceless animation of the human characters. At the end of the short, the boy receives a package that contains his father’s dog tags and what must be his shoes. Again, I feel that I’m supposed to be deeply moved by the horrors of war; the boy thinks these items are for his birthday, when of course they really mean his father is dead. I feel that I’m supposed to feel that way, but I don’t actually feel it. There are several problems here: the age of the boy seems to be around four, and it’s just not interesting to realize he doesn’t understand what’s going on. But the main problem is the action just isn’t all that clear. The pantomimes of the boy are intended to give me all of my information, but the limited, marionette-like animation of the character, despite his very realistic design, prevented me from catching what was going on until later.

When the mother comes home and the boy is asleep on the floor we are in a precarious moment of peace. At any second the mother will find the box and the house will break into mourning. I should be touched here, maybe have some kind of longing to make that moment last, but I was just too bored. Birthday Boy failed for me on multiple levels, but a combination of where it came from and the anti-war message keeps me from being surprised that it was nominated. And I’m sure the medium didn’t hurt.

Author of Strawberry Shortcake: Return of the Purple Pie Man, Disney’s Frozen Comic Collection, Transformers: Robots in Disguise Animated and Littlest Pet Shop: Open for Business. She’s written for IDW Publishing, Hasbro, Lion Forge, American Greetings and Scholastic, and her work has been discussed in Comics Beat and The Washington Post. Subscribe to the newsletter

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