[Article written for Toon Zone News - 08.10.06]
Destiny is a funny old thing. It can bring a fountain of joy, a shower of love, a well of happiness, a bucket of mirth.... and so forth.
Of course, destiny can equally damn you to murder your father, marry your mother, endure a sister as your daughter and once again - and so forth. Such outcomes - to my knowledge - are fairly rare.
If we go one step further, such terrible circumstances being combined into one man’s singular destiny are rarer still. So you can’t help but feel a slight twinge of pity for any poor clod that pulls that short a straw.
You can’t help but pity the life of one such poor clod - Oedipus.
Especially when he’s made of potato.
Yes, possibly one of the most tragic myths this world has heard has been respectful condensed into an eight minute mini-epic starring a potato, a piece of broccoli and Billy Dee Williams.
It must have been an honor for Mr. Dee Williams – or “Lando Calrissian” as he’s known to his friends - to play alongside such a fabled and legendary vegetable.
I sincerely hope his role as “unnamed barman number one” thrusts his career back into the limelight. It would be a tragedy if he was outshined by a cast of organic food.
Unfortunately for Mr. Dee Williams, destiny has spoken and indeed in this case, the edible cast is magnificent.
Oedipus is a charming and humorous animated short film by animation director John Wishnow. It takes the classic Greek myth of Oedipus Rex and adapts it cinematically using the aforementioned plethora of vegetables.
For those who fell asleep during history lessons, let me recap in a time shorter than it takes to tell a nourishing mini epic. Try not to fall asleep for a second time.
Oedipus is the son of the King and Queen of Thebes. Upon his father’s discovery that his child was prophesized to kill him and marry his mother, the Queen, Oedipus was sent away to be killed. Through unforeseen circumstance, the boy wasn’t murdered as his parents intended and grew up oblivious to his predicted destiny. Years later, Oedipus meets his father on the road to Thebes and thereby starts the tragic prophecy of a future King who is destined to marry his mother...
The film is a wry jab at Hollywood’s past mythical epics, referencing the likes of “Ben Hur” for immediate comparison. It does this by creating such a grandiose production on an intentionally minimal scale – and you can’t get any more minimal than inanimate foodstuff.
It furthers its Hollywood epical comparisons by employing familiar cinematic techniques with a mocking smile The opening action scene between the potato Oedipus and a stub of Broccoli otherwise known as Laius, his father and King of Thebes, is a very slick and well paced battle. Indeed, if it wasn’t for the consumable nature of the movie’s actors, one could take such direction as seriously as any epic. The angles, direction, postures and action scream “legitimate fight scene” which is only undermined by the fact you are watching two vegetables going at it with kitchen utensils.
As the film moves on, we have a bar scene that resonates with a hundred other similar bar scenes you’ll have encountered on your cinematic journey. Only difference is this one - once again - is populated by vegetables. It’s this dichotomy between absurdity and straight faced direction that makes this such a pleasure to watch; it doesn’t need to try and be funny - it is in its very essence - funny.
You only have to watch the sex scene between Oedipus and his mother, Jocasta - a potato and a tomato - played out in typical Hollywood style - to see how the blend of the preposterous and the creepy can only result in bemused amusement.
There are some nice little pieces of humor injected into the dialogue as well. Some little jabs at just how silly the tale is, particularly how neither mother nor son nor father truly connect the dots in their relationship until it’s too late. However, it is the visuals which tell the story and support the humor rather than the sporadic dialogue.
The production values are very impressive. The character movements are superbly handled and the aforementioned opening battle is testament to this. The colors are rich and welcoming. Vibrant blues, warm golds and regal purples all add to this visually unusual experience and help enforce the homage to classical movie epic. The score cannot be faulted either, coating the film with an ambience of magnificence and majestic energy.
Room for a grumble? There is always room for a grumble, dear reader, though there are few to be found here. In fairness, being just eight minutes long does leave little time to find fault. There is on particular shot I have a small grievance with – Oedipus’ return to Thebes. The entrance shot to the city mimics some of the Hollywood low angle wide shots you see in classic films, with the immediate foreground falling out of focus in favor of the lead character in the far distance. The shot works so far as the narrative flows, but visually it betrays the size of the characters. The out of focus foreground props look miniaturized and while we are dealing with a cast of small vegetables, the illusion of a larger than life scale is never lost barring this one shot. It’s the only reminder of how tiny these lumps of food are.
Beyond that, one might argue the scene in the bar is a little long in relation to the film as a whole and I must admit I found Oedipus’ classical “wreath erection” is a little gratuitous in a film where the visual humor remains fairly subtle - beyond it being filled with a host of stars you probably slipped off your dinner plate and into the dog’s maul the night before. All in all, simply minor niggles.
If you have the spare change to buy the DVD, you’ll find they’ve done their best make it a worthwhile purchase. The Behind the Scenes documentary is edited together with the same slick finish as the movie and offers an engaging visual insight into the work behind this mini epic.
The storyboards are also present on the DVD and edited into film sequence. This is a must watch for any budding director or storyboard artist. Even if you aren’t into film, they are certainly worth a playback as they are beautifully rendered. And being that Oedipus is just an 8 minute mini film, it’s hardly going to take up too much time.
The box and disk are beautifully illustrated though the best part of the whole package is the “action play sets” depicted on the back. They are a wonderful little slight at the crassness of tie-in film merchandise. If you are lucky enough to be one of the first 1000 orders, you get a 35mm piece of film strip. Nice.
It is a fairly pricey DVD for its short contents, but it is well packaged and the film is an internationally award winning piece of animation. The DVD is digitally remastered in High Definition and it does look beautiful on screen.
Yes, it is short. Yes, it stars vegetables. But it does have Billy Dee Williams and in all fairness, his smooth, rich voice does add to the film. I’m glad Mr. Dee Williams took on the challenge. Having to play alongside an internationally award winning mythical vegetable must have taken a lot of courage.
Furthermore, not only does it look impressive on your shelf, its makes for a great way to break the ice at parties, being a great source of amusement and exclamation for all.
Just remember: while some vegetables are considered aphrodisiacs, a film that has a vegetable having sex with their mother, is not. Avoid playing this film on any romantic first dates.
Oedipus is a great little film that any serious animation buffs would be proud to have on their shelf. It is a pricey buy given its short contents but a worthy investment all the same. Look out for the Potato’s next role. Indeed, keep ‘em peeled.