Demi's Panic

By Bill Plympton | Animation
A young woman is overcome with fear as a deadly virus spreads around her.

Demi is a young professional woman living in New York City. She has disturbing dreams, which start to feel all too real when an invisible danger starts spreading throughout the world, causing catastrophic loss.

She turns to her boyfriend Omar for support. But as the world is being battered by an invisible storm, a safe harbor is hard to find.

Directed and animated by Academy Award-winning Bill Plympton and written by Danny Leonard, this animated short captures the anxiety that happens when the world begins to fall apart. Though it's never mentioned explicitly in the film, the story is clearly inspired by the Covid-19 pandemic, but it's also an incisive, impressionistic study of the isolation at the heart of depression and anxiety, and how it feeds our choices.

The hand-drawn, 2-D illustrated style of the animation comes courtesy of legendary animator Bill Plympton. The black-and-white pencil drawings that characterize Plympton's style have the engaging humanness of hand-drawn visuals, but the beautifully responsive lines also reflect a world that's especially pliable to the forces of uncertainty, doubt and fear from the outside world.

As the world outside of Demi's personal realm begins to become scarier, the animation is flooded with splotches of color. The images destabilize from the cleaner, more stylized drawings from the earlier part of the film, as Demi begins to feel more anxious and depressed. As she becomes more isolated -- and the outside panic bleeds into her innermost circles -- she hits a crisis point, just at the point where she feels most alone.

Poignant and engaging, the choice of animation in "Demi's Panic" as the primary vehicle of expression offers a unique engagement with the subject matter, particularly in comparison to live-action: we're able to take the global event from a wider perspective, and grasp the larger patterns and structures that undergird personal experience. But its focus on mental health gives it relevancy that extends to all sorts of people, no matter where they stand on the various fault lines that make up American life now. No one is immune to anxiety, fear and sadness, though carrying those emotions too long can make it seem like we're alone. Forced into aloneness and fed by anxiety and grief, we will connect however we can, because ultimately it's connection that makes us human.

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