In a time where cutting edge special effects can take us to worlds beyond our understanding, director Don Hertzfeldt has found a way to capture a deeper emotion with a more rudimentary approach. World of Tomorrow - Episode 2: The Burden of Other People's Thoughts is his latest journey into the world of Emily Prime (Winona Mae) as she is visited by her future self (Julia Pott). The world that she is taken to is a fascinating blend of stick figures and other forms of abstract art meant to compliment the story's dour text. It's the tragedy of growing old, and Hertzfeldt has managed to capture its deepest and most personal resonance without ever taking us to a world that is familiar, even visually. It's a short that not only manages to top the original, but may be his best work yet. It's a story for outsiders speculating their existence in the world, and it's sure to make you laugh and think in equal measures.
In the World of Tomorrow sequel, Emily Prime is visited by Emily 6: who is just as disaffected as the other Emilies out there. Her outlook on the world is full of regret and a fascination with an arm bracelet, of which she uses as a way to differentiate herself from other clones. She travels through time and space, doing her best to find meaning in a world that is polluted; corrupt from social influence. Hertzfeldt's genius comes in his ability to make one scene involving a power plant overlaid with a cartoon sky and boxes floating everywhere. It's a surreal vision that few other artists have been able to achieve. It's the type of animation that not only proves the limitations of CG animation, but how unexplored hand drawn styles have been. Hertzfeldt is a fusion artist and has used his recent endeavor as a chance to expand on what his style can bring to his melancholic subject matter.
It's a fully realized vision of a world where everything is absurd; existing between the depressing realities of adulthood and the naivety of youth. Emily Prime is unable to understand her later struggles, instead using her imagination to forge worlds that fill the short with some of its funniest moments. At one point they visit a world made of boxes, creating bizarre images of cars with congruent angled tires and the overall sense that Emily 6 isn't getting through to her. The juxtaposition becomes harrowing as it goes, managing to show literal brain dysfunction in clever detail. The short is deranged, even as it delves into every emotion on the spectrum.
The real question is whether or not it would work any other way. For Hertzfeldt, the animation choice is more than juvenile. It holds intent as a way to make everything feel stranger. The worlds he create are filled with imagery that may looked cut and pasted together, but its vague layers lead to a specificity that is perplexing, making one wonder how this world came together. It's a mystery as strong as the actual premise of the short. Who would be inspired to write a short with as intellectual a humor juxtaposed with the inherent loneliness of people? There's an insecurity to his vision, and it shines through over the 20 minutes. The short consistently feels disorienting, and it only helps to provoke the message more beyond its surface text. By the time it ends, the choice to make a primitive animation style compliments the story so well that it almost seems impossible to see it any other way.
World of Tomorrow - Episode 2 is a powerful look into humanity with an animation style that is trippy, funny, and heartfelt. Hertzfeldt has done an excellent job of capturing the manic-depressive nature of humanity in the past (see: It's Such a Beautiful Day), but here it feels like he has created a singular vision that creates a world that art has never seen before. In some ways, it creates a new respect for stick figures by making them some of the most profound characters in any film, short or long; animated or other. Emily Prime may be a little girl with a tangential sensibility, but she captures an innocence that adds humor as well as insight into how everything progresses. It's a sci-fi short with plenty to say about how absurd the world is, and it does so with some of the greatest animation of the year. This is Hertzfeldt's best work yet, and one can only hope that this isn't the last time that World of Tomorrow is heard from. It's too precious to disappear forever.