Review: The Animatrix (2003)

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the-animatrix-posterWhen the Wachowski’s sci-film “The Matrix” first released in 1999 it’s impact on film culture was immediate and immense. With action scenes that were genuinely innovative and an array of sophisticated ideas and concepts that were usually anathema to mainstream action fans, it broke all the rules yet was a major popular and critical success.

So therefore it was of little surprise that a pair of Matrix sequels were commissioned for released in 2002-03 (called The Matrix Reloaded & The Matrix Revolutions respectively) and were enormously anticipated by fans of the original film worldwide. Alas, they largely disappointed as what was groundbreaking action in 1999 was now seen as rote and passe while the innovation of the ideas in the original were replaced by pretentiousness.

As disappointing as the sequels were, there was a film released at this time that built on the ideas and concepts that the original Matrix film had provided and added fresh new perspectives of its own. That was “The Animatrix”.

The Animatrix was an animated anthology film that while generally had a direct-to-DVD release, was released briefly into cinemas (where I first saw it) in countries like Australia as an appetiser to the hotly-anticipated Matrix sequels.

While far from perfect, The Animatrix is the sequel to The Matrix that Reloaded & Revolutions should have been. It builds on the universe created in the original film by going into more detail about it and build on it. In its series of stories, it shows what its like to live in The Matrix oblivious to its true nature, to be a human consciously fighting the forces that control the Matrix, even what’s like from a robot’s perspective what it’s like to be converted to the side of the humans.

The Animatrix contains nine separate stories and inevitably some stand out more than others. ‘The History of the Matrix’ segment (needlessly broken up into two parts) isn’t one of the high points but is notable for the misanthropic tone it has towards humanity, implicitly saying they deserved their fate to be effectively destroyed by machines because of their cruelty towards them. Notably this misanthropy was absent in the original Matrix live-action movie and it undoubtedly would’ve been far less successful had it been in it. As well, the attempts to make analogies between the oppression of the machines with the oppression of various peoples in the 20th century is awkward and misplaced.
One of the best segments is “Kid’s Story” which has a melancholy, sad but hopeful feel that lingers in the mind long after viewing it. The story concerns a disaffected teenager who finds solace from a hostile world by connecting with Neo (voiced by Keanu Reeves, continuing on his characters from the live-action films). The teenager is prepared to sacrifice his life but instead of death he finds rebirth as one of the people fighting The Matrix (and in becomes a character in the sequels). There is a moving and tragic aspect to this segment in that should one feel empathy for his devastated family or because within The Matrix and their lives are essentially fake, it doesn’t matter?

Another strong segment is “Beyond” which is about a group of children of various ages who – because of a glitch within the Matrix – find an abandoned area where all the laws of gravity and physics cease to exist and wonderful experiences like floating on air can occur. It is closed off by the authorities almost immediately and what resonates in the story is how this brief experience will impact on the children for the rest of their lives and how they had that special afternoon that seems like a dream they could never recapture.

The Animatrix isn’t a total success – the animation in some of the segments isn’t particularly appealing and overambitious although it is to be appreciated seeing so many different animation styles in one film. But what one appreciates about this film is that all of the segments – for better or for worse – are about adding something new to the Matrix universe and culture.

In contrast, it’s hard to remember anything much about the Reloaded/Revolutions live-action sequels. The first sequel Reloaded does have some good ideas and the fresh aspect of showing us the world of Zion (headquarters of the human resistance). But the Zion scenes are largely wasted on dreary dialogue and uninteresting characters that feel like they belong in the dullest episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. After the exhilaration and excitement of the original film, too much of Reloaded is unforgivably rote and uninspiring.

The next film Revolutions is an even bigger disappointment. Not necessarily because it was particularly bad but because it was forgettable which is the worst thing a sequel could be to an original that was so vivid and groundbreaking. I saw Revolutions at a cinema upon its original release and today can remember virtually nothing about it (I had to check Wikipedia to see how it ended).
Today the Reloaded/Revolutions sequels are remembered – if they are at all – as criminal wastes of complimenting a famed and revered original film and instead being the umpteenth example of sequels that seemed to only exist to make money.
But if one wants to view a followup to The Matrix that – if not a genuine sequel – captures the spirit of the original, The Animatrix is the best film to view.

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