First Run Features // 2002 // 30 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // December 23rd, 2004
War is hell.
An animated imagining of a book that's based on a true event, War Game tells the story of a Christmas miracle, set against the unsavory atmosphere of trench warfare in World War I.
War has descended on Europe, and England has been caught up in the fervor. Three friends from a village's soccer team have decided to join the army to fight against the Germans. Their families lament the prospect of their sons not returning; but the boys head off, enamored with the idea of combat glory.
Once they reach the front, however, the romanticized façade dissipates. Horrible living conditions, disgusting rations, and the omnipresent specter of death haunt them. As the seasons change, their situation does not.
Just when things are at their dreariest, Christmas arrives, and what transpires is most unexpected. The Brits listen as the Germans carol, then are amazed to see one of the officers planting a Christmas Tree. One of the Brit boys jumps from the trenches and joins the German for a bout of goodwill. Soon the trenches have cleared, and enemies -- for one day -- are friends. Sipping cocoa and coffee, chatting, exchanging gifts, remembering the fallen, and playing soccer, the men have temporarily set aside the business of wholesale slaughter.
The day ends, however, and the war is soon back on.
This is a real quality piece of family animation. When I was a freshman in college I recall reading about this real-life incident in my Western Civilization class. I don't know how faithful this little adaptation is to the actual events, but it certainly preserved the genuine emotion behind what happened.
Though this is certainly aimed toward the family, it's not a light-hearted romp of cupcakes and sprinkles. We are talking about World War I, after all. The brutality of the war is, of course, lightened for War Game, but there is a sense of darkness present. Cartoon soldiers aren't shown getting shredded by machine gun fire or run through with bayonets, but the horrors of war aren't glossed over completely.
That was something I was concerned about; was the film going to be an utter whitewash, and show war as a happy excursion? No, not at all. And the ending is a downer, too. Moving and noteworthy, but it won't leave with you the warm fuzzies.
As such, I'd say this is a film that can engage kids, and provide parents with an opportunity to get into some deep topics. Then again, I don't have any kids and it's probably safe to assume I'm a moron. But, in War Game, the violence (or, rather, inferred violence -- there is no graphic depiction of violence) has meaning behind it; it's not just a bunch of Power Rangers slicing some suckers up with swords.
The centerpiece, the event itself that brings the soldiers out to congregate, acts as a wonderful balance of humanity to the inhumanity of the bloody conflict.
Overall, the film is well done, though the animation suffers from spells of crudity in a few sequences. It's not a piece of breathtaking art, but the substance makes up for the lesser style.
The widescreen video transfer is snappy, and works the color palette nicely. A mediocre Dolby 2.0 mix accompanies; it didn't really do anything to move me. Bonus materials include an interview with Michael Foreman, the author of the book, some animation features, and previews.
A moving, but intense, story.
Review content copyright © 2004 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: First Run Features
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 30 Minutes
Release Year: 2002
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Interview with Michael Foreman
* Animation Features