World of Tomorrow: Self-Discovery in the Digital Age

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I first discovered Don Hertzfeltd’s animated short World of Tomorrow last summer while perusing Netflix for something to watch before going into work. I only had about half an hour, and figured I would put on an episode of Futurama or The Office to play while I assembled myself for another riveting night in the service industry. Instead, I saw World of Tomorrow at the head of my “Recommended for You,” section, and the 17-minute runtime and vague familiarity of the title picture told me to hit the play button. When the credits rolled, I looked down to see that I had stopped getting ready for work about a minute into the film; I’d been entirely consumed by the screen.

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The familiarity I’d noted in the almost childlike animation was from the only other Hertzfeltd work I had seen, It’s Such a Beautiful Day, which follows protagonist Bill as he spirals downward through a terminal medical diagnosis and begins to lose his mind and grip on reality. I loved it for it’s deadpan narration of Bill’s strife, be it his ambiguous disease or his awkward day-to-day interactions, which deteriorate into absurdity as Bill’s mania takes the wheel. World of Tomorrow takes this to a completely new level, following toddler Emily as she is guided by “herself” through a tour of the future.

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Because the film is so short and I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, I’ll instead discuss more of the visual and thematic elements that roped me into the story. Hertzfeltd’s animation is astounding in it’s simplicity: stick-figure characters consumed by a barrage of lines and colors, and monsters that look like something you’d see drawn in crayon hanging by a magnet on the fridge. Rather than detracting from the story, though, this style helps the viewer see the events through the naïve eyes of Emily, who seemingly has little understanding of what is actually happening as she is thrust forward hundreds of years into the future. The sound design is also on point, with constant sci-fi audio effects littering the film’s subconscious.

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The story itself is actually rather morbid and sad, as “Future Emily” tells of all of the horrible ways humanity has learned to preserve itself in a deadpan, matter-of-fact way that is completely lost on the child. Hertzfeltd cleverly inserts this darkness into the story with a hilarity and ease that both impresses and enrages me as a storyteller. Whether it’s toddler-Emily’s complete obliviousness to the horrific implications of the future, or future-Emily’s absurd tales of finding love amongst the cosmos, the film misses no opportunities to pit the viewer into fits of hysterical laughter and simultaneously a void of existential despair.

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It’s weird, but certainly the best kind of weird that can be found on Netflix.

-JT

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