John and Michael are two students in Edinburgh, Scotland, when alien ships appear in the sky. As it turns out, a race of cartoon aliens have arrived on Earth, and they begin descending to the surface of the planet.
The aliens are colorful and cute, inciting the interest of humans. With their adorability, the “toons” make themselves at home on Earth, and two aliens in particular become new flatmates for John and Michael, enjoying parties, holidays and drinking and bonding with their human friends. But when one night of partying goes too far, things begin to shift… and the toons may not be as benign as thought.
This sharp, funny comedic sci-fi short — co-written and directed by Owen Rixon, co-written by Callum Barton and animated by The 2D Workshop — mixes charming cartoon animation with reality-style found-footage live-action, making for a resolutely fun and antic romp of a doomsday narrative. Beginning with a richly colorful and detailed animated sequence that clearly shows off the animation house’s chops and visual creativity, it backtracks to a more primitive time on the planet… a place that we learn is Edinburgh, Scotland. How Earth became a near-psychedelic animated fantasia is the narrative arc, but the film gets from point A to B in the story in a clever, inventive way.
The film clearly has fun offsetting the toons’ colorful adorability with the more rough-and-tumble live-action footage, juxtaposing the humans’ propensity for carousing with the toons’ relative innocence. Watching the toons adjust and learn the social rituals of millennial life — getting drunk, serving as Christmas tree toppers — not only amusing to watch, but it exposes just how silly we humans can be and how random and odd our traditions and rituals are.
The narrative also exploits the found-footage conceit of the film to quickly move through many plot events, deftly skipping from the aliens’ arrival to their acclimation on Earth to their eventual takeover of the planet. It’s a feature-scale story, but the story’s format and style allow viewers to experience it with a lightness of touch that works well with the editing’s rhythms and pacing. The pleasure is less about unexpected twists and turns of a story, and more about watching the tropes of an “end of the world” story play out with a fresh, engaging visual treatment.
While both the majority of the live-action footage and the 2-D animation have a simplicity to them, their relative roughness actually works well together, particularly in a story that is about how these two worlds come to bleed together. As the toons begin to shift and change, the sophistication of the animation subtly amps up as well, getting more complex in line and movement, and genuinely darker and more menacing in feel, especially with sculpted shadows and motion. The toons aren’t so simple and cute anymore, and when their full intentions are discovered, it may be too late for humans to save themselves.
Harkening back to the nostalgic charm of films like “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” the possibilities of cartoon cuteness have clearly been exploited by animated stories many times over. But watching that twee adorability become a Trojan horse for the apocalypse in “Toonocalypse” makes for an energetic, lively take on a well-trodden story genre. The story never takes itself too seriously, but its sheer exuberance and brio in style and execution are a delight to experience and will leave audiences wanting more.