One man drives across the vast and barren landscape of Australia’s Nullarbor Plain, which has the longest stretch of straight road in the world.
As the brash young upstart traverses the epic vista, he passes a slower, more laidback motorist and almost gets into an accident. Seeking payback, he goes after the old codger.
But the other motorist proves himself surprisingly intrepid despite his clunky old car and his slow pace. As the younger man tries to outpace him and encounters one obstacle after another, the older man slogs along steadily, adding a new, boisterous twist in this update of the classic “tortoise and hare” tale.
This entertaining and visually striking short animation — by directors Alister Lockhart and Patrick Sarell, in collaboration with The Lampshade Collective — is the simplest and most pared-down of stories. Essentially the narrative revolves around a duel between two rivals, with one trying to pull one over the another. Bur rather than pistols or guns, they’re dueling with cars, on a road that gives them to ultimate terrain to battle upon.
The writing is equally as stripped-down, but the pacing and editing — as well a terrific, Western-flavored score — keep things brisk and compelling despite the lack of dialogue. The storytelling also injects its simplicity with great humor and impeccable, striking 3D craftsmanship — and also honors the unique landscape of Australia. Both the conflict and humor derive from two vastly different people who function at different tempos with different values sharing the same road. (There’s also a few rude bits as well that punctuate the storyline.)
The animation’s visual style is earthy and surreal, evoking the colors of the Nullarbor Plain as well as the stretched-out, elongated silhouettes that almost seem to melt underneath the unrelenting desert sun. The characters feel almost like rock figures that have come to life. Yet despite the stylization, the visuals are able to evoke the awe-inspiring desolation of such a long, straight, seemingly endless stretch of road.
But there’s a lot of space for anything to happen, and in the end, “Nullarbor” exploits animation’s ability to portray anything to create a final scene that’s both epic in its destruction yet oddly and beautifully evocative of the Australian spirit itself. The result is a slapstick, ironic and weirdly poignant ending to an anarchic, rambunctious road movie to end all road movies: one where no one wins over the highway itself.