Bush Leaguers

By Robert McKeon and Sam Fletcher | Animation
An animated comedy about a team of misfit baseball players, set in the gritty world of turn of the century New York City.

At the behest of his cranky team owner, a baseball player in 1890s Brooklyn needs to round up the rest of his team for a group photo at the beginning of their season.

The search for his team sends him all across the city. As he hunts down his irascible fellow players, he visits rough-and-tumble saloons, dodges the backed up traffic of horses and wagons and even ends up on the Brooklyn Bridge to talk down a desperate teammate.

But gathering the “Brooklyn Bridegrooms” together proves to be a monumental feat — especially when the team is full of oddballs and misfits who can barely navigate life, much less a coordinated team sport.

Co-creators Robert McKeon and Sam Fletcher’s amusing and eccentric animated short bounces along with a sure-handed sense of storytelling, chock full of quirky character detail, funny zingers and richly idiosyncratic dialogue. Its bright but detailed visual style — reminiscent of 19th century political cartoons, but with richly expressive colors and gestures — catch the eye, but what captures the viewer interest is the writing, which both bubbles along with comedic antics while introducing a set of characters with intricately observed details.

The dialogue goes a long way in setting up these characters, being both highly specific to their personalities while still landing punchlines with crack timing. The action is often ridiculous to the point of being almost surreal, but it all works well in the heightened world of the short.

One of its gifts of the story is its ability to evoke and incorporate the old-time atmosphere of its historic period without weighing down the nimble comedic pacing and storytelling. The film is rich with references to the politics, slang and life of the late 19th century — a time of rapidly growing immigration, wealth disparity and ethnic and racial tensions — but it never gets in the way of the entertaining stream of jokes, one-liners and pranks. As a result, “Bush Leaguers” may be about an old-timey baseball team at the turn of the 20th century, but it feels very modern, resplendent with the rhythms of today’s rapid-fire comedic sensibilities, particularly of workplace comedies like “30 Rock” or even “Futurama,” where conflicting personalities must work together in close quarters.

Entertaining, amusing and great fun to watch, “Bush Leaguers” both succeeds as a funny, quirky story about a group of misfits coming together, but with a layer of sophistication that subtly draws parallels between the worlds of yesterday and today. Both eras are struggling with great social and economical forces — and both are in need of some laughs and inspiration.

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