As a writer and illustrator, Dash Shaw has had several successful graphic novels. Now, following in the footsteps of Daniel Clowes and Frank Miller, Shaw has turned to feature filmmaking for his next challenge with the wildly entertaining My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea
The title of My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea
really tells you all you need to know; it's about a high-school kid named Dash (voiced by Jason Schwartzman from The Overnight
) who, along with his friend Assaf (Creative Control
's Reggie Watts) and nemesis-editor Verti (Maya Rudolph from Bridemaids
), work on the Tides High School newspaper (get it? Tides High?). When Assaf and Verti start spending more time together, the jealous Dash goes off on his own and tries to do some hard-hitting investigative journalism. He discovers that the new additions to the school were not built up to earthquake codes, and the school sits directly on a fault line. He tries to warn everyone, but before he can...well, you can guess the rest.
If it wasn't an animated movie, My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea
would be a fairly standard disaster flick, perhaps a bit exploitative, maybe like what you'd get if Irwin Allen was producing for the SyFy Channel. But, because it is animated, it becomes a whole new layer of awesome - think Michael Bay teaming up with Hanna-Barbera.
And there are multiple layers of awesome to it. The obvious story is just the ridiculous wanton destruction and bloodshed that occurs as the school is devastated by the earthquake and slowly sinks into the shark infested waters that apparently surround it. Then there's the thin analogy of social classes, with each floor of the school housing a different grade level, freshman on bottom, seniors on top, so the low men on the social totem pole die first as the school sinks and everyone has to claw their way up to the top floors to survive. The metaphor has been done, just last year in Ben Wheatley's High-Rise
as a matter of fact, but you've never seen it pulled off quite like this. It's about as subtle as a hammer striking an anvil, but it works.
For a vintage-looking cartoon, it's also incredibly grim. There's just as much death and destruction in the film as you'd imagine from a movie with earthquakes and sharks, but it comes with a sense of whimsy because, well, it's a vintage-looking cartoon. And, best of all, it never takes itself too seriously. It knows it's a silly movie, and it embraces that fact. Where else can you find a lunch lady, voiced by Susan Sarandon (The Meddler
), who uses kung-fu and MMA moves to kick the crap out of anyone who gets in her way? Yes, that actually happens.
Dash Shaw isn't trying to reinvent the wheel or anything like that with My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea
. It's a simple survival story turned into a quirky disaster movie by stylish animation, drawing influence from everything from Lord of the Flies
. The whole thing is summed up nicely by a quote from the tail end of the film: "(it) was corny as hell, but I liked it." That's My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea
- corny as hell, but you'll like it.
The animation in My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea
can best be described as simple-yet-stylish. It's mostly just line drawings, but the coloring adds texture and depth to the two-dimensional figures. The backgrounds, made up of either watercolor paintings or green screen-style fire and sparkler effects, add another layer to the artwork. The animation itself was done by scanning the original drawings into a computer and bringing it to life with Adobe After Effects. Dash Shaw utilized a small team of animators, but each had a specific skill set, so the artwork stays consistent. Like "Beavis and Butt-head" and "The Life & Times of Tim," My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea
is the type of simple retro-nostalgic paint-and-crayon art animation that looks like anyone could do it...anyone, that is, until that anyone actually tries it.