Don Hertzfeldt’s 2015 animated short “World of Tomorrow” is a nearly perfect piece of moviemaking. First of all, it’s short, and as someone who’s spent the better part of a week at a film festival, sitting through two-and-a-half hour slogs, brevity is appreciated. But World of Tomorrow packs a lot into its 17-minute run time. It’s funny (“Wiggle wiggle wiggle”), devastating (“It is easy to get lost in memories”), beautiful (“I am very proud of my sadness because it means I am more alive”), and thought provoking (“Now is the envy of all of the dead”). It’s a beautiful exploration of the nightmare that is existence, and was rightly nominated for Best Animated Short Film at the Oscars (and wrongly lost to “Bear Story“).
In other words, “World of Tomorrow Episode Two: The Burden of Other People’s Thoughts” (which premiered at Fantastic Fest) has a lot to live up to. Amazingly, and to Hertzfeldt’s immense credit, it’s (almost) as good.
Emily Prime (the little girl from the first film) is still an adorable moppet, and in “Episode Two,” she’s joined by a third-generation clone, Emily 6, who needs Emily’s memories to make her complete. If it sounds impossibly complex, well, it is. But it works, because the time-travel sci-fi elements are explored through the mindset of a child. Emily Prime keeps “World of Tomorrow,” both the original and the sequel, grounded, and her juvenile innocence breaks up the exposition. I don’t want to say too much about where “Episode Two” goes, partially because it’s worth experiencing yourself, but also because I’m not entirely sure I know what happened. That’s my one (very) minor knock.
The first “World of Tomorrow” is elaborate, but never feels convoluted; “Episode Two” is denser and harder to follow. In a post-screening Q&A, Hertzfeldt explained why: Emily Prime is voiced by his niece; he followed her around while they played to record the dialogue. She was four years old in “World of Tomorrow;” in “Episode Two,” she’s a little older, a little more self-aware, and her babbling narratives are more conceptually impenetrable. This leads the film, which goes inward (think Inside Out meets the glitches of Wreck-It Ralph) where “World of Tomorrow” went outward, to some weird places, like Triangle Land and the Bog of Reality (“That is a glimmer of hope. Put it back”). But the abstraction also leads to stunning statements on the human condition.
“Am I dying? I feel beautiful.”
But again, that’s a minor complaint. “Episode Two” is, in typical sequel fashion, bigger, bolder, longer (although only by a few minutes), and most of all, a worthy successor to one of the best movies, be it short or feature-length, of the 21st century. I can’t wait for my clone to watch both parts in 600 years.
“World of Tomorrow Episode Two: The Burden of Other People’s Thoughts” should be released later this year. “World of Tomorrow” is available now on Netflix.