Twenty years ago, one film forever changed the face of the animated filmmaking industry. Whether this film changed animation for better or for worse is ultimately up to the opinions of moviegoers, but there is no denying that "Toy Story" revolutionized this form of filmmaking in more ways than one. Nowadays, with 3D animation speedily evolving to the point of complete photorealism, it's almost hard to tell the difference between animated films and big CGI blockbusters. This seems to be due to the misconception that photorealistic animation will not only look real, but will also feel real to viewers. Working contrary to this idea is a talented animator named Don Hertzfeldt, one of the few filmmakers who understands that good animation does not have to rely on super realism to leave an emotional impact on audiences. Opting for stick figures rather than little yellow guys running around blabbing nonsense, Hertzfeldt creates a film that may not be suitable for children, but more than suitable for those looking for animation with a lot more on its mind than visual appeal.
As Hertzfeld's first feature film, "It's Such a Beautiful Day" consists of three chapters originally released as three separate short films, "Everything Will Be OK," "I Am So Proud of You," and "It's Such a Beautiful Day." All three chapters chronicle the life of a man named Bill, who lives an incredibly mundane life and suffers from mental illness and memory loss. Through the exploration of his childhood, family history, and repetitive lifestyle, Bill slowly comes to terms with his eventual demise.
Some may recognize Hertzfeldt as the guy behind the popular Oscar-nominated short, "Rejected," which has over nine million views on YouTube. His trademark sense of dark humor that pervades his other films carries over into "It's Such a Beautiful Day," but rather than be funny for the sake of being funny, Hertzfeldt's drollness serves the narrative a great deal. Not a single quip or visual gag falls flat, but as with Hertzfeldt's other films, the humor is not the point of "It's Such a Beautiful Day."
The film spends much of its time pondering deep philosophical ideas scarce to be found in mainstream animation. Themes of life, death, and the passage of time are explored through deadpan narration and absurdist imagery to a staggering effect. Not to say that such ideas haven't been meditated on in other films before, but Hertzfeldt's unique style of animation, complete with stick figures and multicolor effects captured in-camera, gives each idea a sense of originality that not even a live-action film could probably achieve.
Hertzfeldt's use of stick figures as characters is far more deliberate here than in any of his other films. Even though Bill carries a lot of baggage in terms of depression and overall instability, he is no more complex than the rest of us. He is not special, nor does he stand out in a crowd, save for his distinctive hat. It is this simplistic representation of a human being that allows viewers to fully sympathize with Bill and emotionally participate in his existential journey.
The main takeaway of "It's Such a Beautiful Day" is the realization that Hertzfeldt spent hours upon hours every day for over five years crafting Bill's story. There is far more passion and dedication put into this film than most animated films made today (which is the number one reason why this comes highly recommended). One could argue that the animation techniques alone make the film as beautiful as it is, but just like the humor, it is not beautiful for the sake of being beautiful. Perhaps a more appropriate title would be "It's Such a Beautiful Film," a profoundly moving exploration of the human condition through the eyes of one of the most brilliant filmmakers of the 21st century.