A Year in Shorts Day 273: "The Box"
Sometimes a film just sticks out from the rest of the pack like a sore thumb. For a great example of this, take a look at the Best Picture lineup at the 40th Academy Awards. Nominated are films like The Graduate and Bonnie and Clyde, which revolutionized the film industry. Also nominated is Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, which (along with that year’s winner, In the Heat of the Night) tackled race relations in America clearly and directly. Say what you will about those films (I don’t even like two of them), you cannot deny they were important. And then there was the fifth nominee, Doctor Dolittle. In fairness, I haven’t seen that movie so I can’t speak to its quality. (Then again, a three hour musical from the 1960s- possibly the worst decade for movie musicals- starring my sworn enemy Rex Harrison probably doesn’t have a whole lot of promise.) Still, it’s clearly an outlier amongst the rest of the pack. And at first glance, that year’s winner for Best Animated Short, The Box, seems like a misfit when compared to a lot of that category’s other winners in the 60s. While most of them were fairly bold and experimental, The Box feels quaint and kind of unspectacular. But is that really the case? Well, there’s only one way to find out.
Fred Wolf's The Box is yet another example of the One Joke Short, which should probably have its own category by now. For those not in the know, a One Joke Short is a short film where the entire runtime is dedicated to setting up the punchline at the very end. It is NOT a short which literally contains only one joke, although that does occasionally happen. There is no tried and true method to making a good One Joke Short, aside from making sure that the punchline is worth the setup. Of course, if you don't feel confident that that's the case, you can always hedge your best by making the short as short as possible. That won't make it good of course (it certainly didn't work for The Crunch Bird), but at least you're not wasting anyone's time. But at nearly eight minutes long, The Box certainly isn't pulling any punches. Which I guess is admirable in a way. Still, I'm not sure the setup to this particular joke is one that really needed to be dragged out for quite so long. But whether or not the punchline is worth it is ultimately up to you.
From my perspective, at least, the answer to that question is a resounding no. It's pretty cute, I guess, and you have to admire the skill at wordless storytelling on display here. But the punchline is a fairly weak one, and at ten minutes long that's almost unforgivable. And while most One Joke Shorts will have something else going for it to help pass the time, The Box really doesn't. All it has going for it is some ugly animation and a repetitive percussive score. And that's not really enough for me. While I do have a soft spot for limited animation, I think my fondness for it does not extend to the late 60s. What was once a clever and unique method for telling stories comes across as lazy and cheap. (It isn't of course, but you can't deny there's a "Made-for-TV" quality to this short. It looks more like a bad episode of Rocky and Bullwinkle than anything else.) Your mileage may vary of course, and this is just one of those shorts where your enjoyment of it (or lack thereof) will come down to personal taste. The Box really isn't for me, but it might be more up your alley. The Academy certainly went for it, although I can't help but feel that perhaps there was just a particularly weak field in 1967. Or maybe the Academy just liked films about fucking. That was a pretty big thing in the 60s too.
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