Carol Beecher and Kevin Kurytnik’s bizarre short “Mr. Reaper’s Really Bad Morning” has all the trappings of your typical edgy animated film: a highly-stylized central character, liberal use of trippy imagery, and the frequent inclusion of classical music. Despite itself, the flick somehow manages to embed its soul-collecting hero deep within your gooey little heart by the time all is said and done. Even the character’s soggy Garfield-esque catchphrases can’t sink the flick’s ability to properly entertain. As you can imagine, overcoming that particular obstacle takes a deep pocket full of mad skills.
The film unfolds in chapters, each dealing with a particular aspect of our death-dealing hero’s daily routine. Beneath that gruff skeletal exterior, he’s just your average undead Joe, a guy’s guy who’s morning ritual involves downing a nice cup of radioactive brew while absorbing a monotonous motivational tape specifically designed for someone in his line of work. When terror strikes a nearby cityscape, he isn’t above thumbing a ride from a passing fire truck to attend the explosive festivities. It’s all captured with a defeatist’s eye, giving you the impression that the original Man in Black isn’t too happy with his station in life. His bitter hatred of the world-at-large culminates in an apocalyptic showdown with a timid flower who seems content to spend its life singing the fourth movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9.
Their version of the proverbial Grim Reaper is a completely unlikeable grump, yet his depressing plight to rid the world of all forms of life ultimately turns him into a sympathetic schmuck who just so happens to be caught in the same nine-to-five grind most of us suffer through on a weekly basis. This slightly different approach to the mythos, combined with Beecher and Kurtnik’s unusual visual style, allows the film to become much more than its meager premise suggests.
However, trying to accurately describe the film to someone who hasn’t seen it is actually quite stupid. After all, “Mr. Reaper’s Really Bad Morning” is a full-on experience, a vaguely psychedelic journey into a demented comic strip that has magically come to life. Beecher and Kurytnik’s vibrant use of color and their no-holds-barred approach to animation transform this admittedly simple story into a living, breathing work of art. Think Liquid Television with just a splash of Edward Gorey. Though the filmmakers may think this comparison is a little unfair, it’s actually a very well-intentioned compliment.
If you should suddenly find yourself jonesing for an animated flick that doesn’t necessarily play by the rules, “Mr. Reaper’s Really Bad Morning” might just be the prescription to soothe your indie soul. It’s literally a feast for the eyes, a lofty visual art project with an unusually deft sense of humor. Most Adult Swim shows strive for this kind of perfection, that rare blend of art and comedy which transcends the medium. Thus far, none have managed to capture the manic energy of this one-of-a-kind production. Love it or hate it, Mr. Reaper’s Really Bad Morning will have you stomping flowers long after its meager 17 minutes have dazzled your unsuspecting senses.