A Year in Shorts Day 92: "What on Earth!"
Quite by accident, we at The Great Oscar Baiter have dedicated the last few posts to films produced by the National Film Board of Canada. That’s to be expected, really. As we’ve said before, the NFBC produced a wide variety of shorts across the years, a great deal of which received Oscar nominations. Today’s short, Les Drew and Kaj Pindal’s What on Earth! comes to us from the grand old year of 1967. And for better or for worse, it’s definitely a 60s cartoon!
What on Earth takes the form of a fake documentary commissioned by the National Film Board of Mars, which tells its audience of a startling discovery- there is life on Earth! Already we're off to a fine start, but this film has a bit of twist; the Martian scientists are under the impression that the dominant life form on Earth aren't human beings, but cars. It's a cute idea, and it makes for a cute short. Admittedly, What on Earth! is more clever than funny, and the premise is a little thin to sustain a ten minute run time, but it's pretty enjoyable nonetheless. It may not be the most unique or insightful bit of satire, but there's still a lot to like about it.
I'm not an animation expert (I know, I hide it so well), but What on Earth! definitely looks and feels pretty in line with what I know about animation in the 60s. It's pretty simplistic but in a way that's pleasant to the eye, and it's all colorful and filled with some pretty funny sight gags. I wouldn't call the style "abstract", but the film plays around with shapes, movement and perspective in ways that are unexpected and fun to watch. A particular highlight is the bridge building sequence, which is delightfully absurd.
What on Earth! isn't a great short (you can really feel it padding itself out in the second half), but it does a solid job with its clever concept and sometimes that's enough. It didn't win the Oscar that year, losing instead to The Box (NOT to be mistaken for the terrible Richard Kelly film of the same name), which is a pretty decent short in its own right. The Oscar-nominated animated shorts of the 1960s weren't always great (in fact, some of them are quite terrible), but they were almost always interesting. Fans of that 60s aesthetic will definitely want to check this one out.
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