Well...what a fantastic little movie this is. The very definition of what a short film should be: brilliantly put-together and full of originality. Playgrounds is both a homage to childhood nostalgia and an exploration of pop culture history—but more importantly, to the escapism it provides.
Playgrounds is an entirely computer-generated and actor less movie based solely within the sanctuary of a child’s bedroom. A seemingly floating Sega Megadrive controller clicks away as a game of Sonic is playing out on a small box TV - of course, we as an audience understand this is to be a child playing. The bedroom adorned in all things nostalgic: a Superman T-shirt, a Godzilla toy, an Optimus Prime toy, and, most spectacularly, a Monkey Island poster!! But there’s more than wide-eyed sentimentality going on here.
The sound of, what we presume to be, parents arguing outside runs throughout the four-minute duration of the film. It’s clear, this is no domestic bliss. The hazy pixelation of the world outside of the cracked open door makes the room feel cosy, comfortable, and safe; while the happenings outside are scary and uncertain. This room is clearly a refuge from the troubles outside; hence my referring to it as a ‘sanctuary’ earlier. This is proven – if proof were needed – at around the one and a half-minute mark in one of the subtlest, yet most heartbreaking scenes I’ve seen in a movie for a long time. A simple shadow of a small child in the bedroom doorway and the raising of the second Megadrive controller is all it comprises of.
This is clearly a younger brother seeking solace with his older brother in his bedroom to escape the reality of their domestic situation, and it’s devastatingly effective. Impressively, despite there being no dialogue and no real narrative to speak of, Milo + Fab never struggle to communicate the essence of their film. That is the overcoming power of a child’s imagination and how the toys we loved in our youth provided us with much more than we can ever appreciate. In this is way, Playgrounds has strong intimations of Pixar’s Toy Story. And in no way is that a bad thing.
There’s always a worry, particularly with short or low-budget movies, that the CGI will be subpar; a problem for a fully CG film. But that certainly isn’t an issue here. The animation itself is absolutely first-class, and while stylised is a totally respectful depiction of the toys we all know and love. There are some really gorgeous imagery and lighting here and terrific sound design that not only adds to the magic of the film but makes it easier to get lost in our own personal nostalgic memories.
If you’re able, I’d highly recommend watching ‘Process Video’. It’s a great insight into the effort put into making the film and the techniques used by the artists.
For me, Playgrounds is flawless; a perfect example of short film making. It’s an original concept, one that draws you in, right from the start with its stunning visuals and display of retro pop culture. But behind the dewy-eyed childhood memories, there’s a profound exploration of our collective lost innocence. It’s impossible not to lose yourself in this incredibly moving piece of cinematic art, and if it doesn’t even slightly tug at your heartstrings, you may need to see a mortician. Also, did I mention there’s a Monkey Island poster?!