We continue our series of reviews chronicling all of the (non-Studio Ghibli) animated films distributed by GKIDS Films — some of the most original and breathtakingly beautiful animated films from around the world — and how they hold up for a young American audience.
The entire retrospective is found here, and this time we’ve got…
My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea (2017): Dash Shaw, director
What’s it about?
Billed as “equal parts disaster cinema, high school comedy, and blockbuster satire,” My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea is the brainchild of graphic novelist Dash Shaw. He’s done his best to inject a sequential art aesthetic into this film, which has an animation style that blends drawings, paintings, and collage.
It’s the beginning of another year of school at Tides High, and Dash and his best friend Assaf are two-thirds of the school’s widely-distributed but little-read newspaper. The remaining third is their friend Verti. While snooping for a scoop, Dash learns that a brand-new four-story addition to the school wasn’t built to code, and the administration is covering it up. The school is in imminent danger of sliding into the sea with even the slightest of tremors.
So of course an earthquake strikes, and disaster erupts. The school slides out to sea and floats away. The four stories of the school are for each of the four grades. Freshman at the bottom, seniors on top. Bit on the nose there.
It’s a race through the ever-present social stratification of high school (even while it’s sinking), and along the way, Dash and his friends are joined by a popular mean girl and a bizarro lunch lady. As they make their way to the roof and hoped-for salvation, they face a twisted 21st century lord of the flies. There’s a post-apocalyptic cult formed by jocks, apathetic teens who can’t be bothered to realize the end is near, blossoming young love in the face of disaster, more than a few video game homages, and of course plenty of inescapable social cliques.
They might be sinking into the sea and dying by droves, but this is still high school.
What are the cultures at play? And how about the languages?
This is an American film (a relative rarity for GKIDS) about high school and teenage culture in the United States. So the “culture” is a fairly familiar one, but it plays out in some potentially unfamiliar ways. Adults might recall their own experiences in high school, and teenagers might more immediately relate to the story and characters. But younger viewers might have a hard time figuring out what’s going on, especially since the plot and themes are so…off the wall.
The film sports an all-star cast, featuring Jason Schwartzman, Reggie Watts, Maya Rudolph, Lena Dunham, and Susan Sarandon in the main roles. Obviously, when you’re talking actors of this caliber, there’s not a whole lot to complain about. They all turn in fantastic performances, but be warned: Lena Dunham is at her Lena Dunhamiest.
Will my kids like it?
This is honestly the first GKIDS film (that I’ve seen, at least) that’s not really for kids. See below for specifics, but the film is rated PG-13 for a reason. The animation style also takes a bit of getting used to, and I’m not sure it will engage many young viewers. Kids might not “get” the movie or what it really means. They’ll likely have a LOT of questions. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but the film doesn’t really follow a template that’s familiar to most kids.
Your mileage will vary, of course, but I do recommend watching this one first before screening it for the little ones.
Will I like it?
I think it depends entirely on your sense of humor and whether you tend to like other “indie” projects that dispel with familiar tropes in favor of shock and symbolism. If you’re a fan of Dash Shaw’s graphic novels, then it’s pretty safe to say you’ll probably like this. Are you a regular reader of Fantagraphics books? If so, then you’ll probably groove on this film.
However, if you’re more of the Studio Ghibli (or Pixar) fan who watches animated films for the lush atmospheres, gorgeous characterization, and meaningful and emotional stories that pay off in the end, then this might not be your speed.
I’m going to be completely honest and admit that this is the first GKIDS film I probably wouldn’t recommend to someone. I admire the film for the risks it takes, the fact that it doesn’t feel confined to a specific box, and its warped sensibility. But I just can’t see myself popping it back in for repeat viewings.
Is there anything objectionable for young kids?
Again, the film is rated PG-13, has some crude language, and has a few scenes of violence, dismemberment, and immediate danger (mostly fire and flood). The high school is sinking into the sea, and you certainly get your fill of drowned and dead teenagers. It’s kind of right there in the title.
There are also a number of disturbing scenes on top of all that – including a interior cross-section of someone’s head (with a cotton swab inserted to the ear).
How can I see it?
The collection is available on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital and can be ordered from the usual places, including Amazon. The Blu-ray also features an audio commentary with Dash Shaw, several of his short films, and a brief documentary about the art and animation style of the film.
I hate to cast any GKIDS film in a negative light, but My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea just didn’t click with me. I didn’t hate it, but – like I said earlier – I can’t see myself going back for repeat viewings. The world is big enough for both Dash Shaw and Hayao Miyazaki, and I know there are some people who might prefer the former. I’m just not one of them. This film wasn’t made for me, and that’s OK.
But maybe it’s perfect for you.