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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea (Blu-ray)
My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea (Blu-ray)
Shout Factory // PG-13 // January 23, 2018 // Region A
List Price: $26.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Tyler Foster | posted February 5, 2018 | E-mail the Author
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Dash Shaw (Jason Schwartzman) and his good friend Assaf (Reggie Watts) are trying their best to navigate high school's treacherous social ladder. Dash thinks the way to get there is through the school paper, where he and Assaf write up whatever stories their hearts desire, under the supervision of their quiet editor, Verti (Maya Rudolph), who spends most of her time taking out Dash's unnecessary linguistic flourishes. However, when Dash finds out that Verti has a crush on Assad, he writes and self-publishes a cruel smear issue about Assad and Verti that Principal Grimm (Thomas Jay Ryan) puts on Dash's permanent record. In trying to covertly clear his name, Dash stumbles upon a real story, about Grimm illegally building a dangerous addition to the school, but before he can report on it, the school is swept out into the ocean and begins sinking fast.

My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea isn't quite a movie, but that's not as bad as it sounds: that is to say, it's more of a showcase for writer/director Dash Shaw's imaginative visual style than it is a completely satisfying story. Shaw, a cartoonist, has made his feature-length filmmaking debut with a project that doesn't completely cross the gap between the two art forms, containing plenty of little moments that would probably play as more insightful or emotionally compelling if they had the time to sink in provided by the processing of individual comic book panels rather than as part of a fairly brisk 77-minute movie (which runs even shorter once one factors in the suspiciously slow closing credit crawl).

High School's relative weightlessness can be attributed to Shaw's screenplay. The story isn't poorly written, but there's a certain simplicity to it that makes the film feel as if it doesn't have a center of gravity. Dash doesn't have a larger arc than his need to apologize to Assaf and Verti, the sinking of the school is never really attributed to any sort of grand scheme (while there's more explanation beyond what Dash finds, it doesn't change the nature of the incident), and the impending rescue by helicopter isn't really presented as a ticking clock. The characters make their way from the bottom floor of the school, where the juniors reside, up through toward the top floors where the seniors are. Along the way, Dash, Verti, and Assaf are joined by other students, including junior class president Mary (Lena Dunham), grizzled school lunch lady Lorraine (Susan Sarandon), and bully Drake (Alex Karpovsky).

The real reason to watch the movie is to see Shaw experiment with whatever kind of animation strikes his fancy, all rooted in the story or emotional needs of the scene. The characters are drawn with thicker black lines in times of deep stress, sometimes changing colors or being animated with a visual pattern across their face. In a scene where one character reveals themselves to be a bad friend, the word "team" appears and disappears from her sweatshirt, and one action sequence has the fixed-view and repetitive movement of an old-fashioned side-scrolling video game (ala Streets of Fire). In terms of technique, throughout the film, viewers will notice everything from traditional hand-drawn animation to the animation of cut-out construction paper, overlays of live-action visuals of things like fire and dribbling blackness that flows over the screen. Shaw even occasionally hands the film off to a completely distinct alternate visual style (such as a flashback where Dash summarizes what defines his and Assad's friendship).

Tonally, the film is a bit odd: although the movie is being distributed by GKids, this is more of a comedy aimed at an audience of 25-year-olds or so. The sinking of the school and the fate of the majority of the kids inside is basically played as a joke, resulting in the movie's PG-13 rating. Conceptually, there's nothing wrong with this, but Shaw may have done better to emphasize the childlike fantasy aspect of the film. The heightened emotions of Dash and Assaf's friendship being weakened and the revenge that Dash gets on many of his bullies and doubters throughout the film represent a lens that would filter the movie through a teenage POV, but the deaths simply end up feeling a bit more real than Shaw may have intended.

The Blu-ray
The key art created for My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea is actually one of the least-inspired piece of art related to the film. It depicts the characters, but they look almost unrecognizable, and it doesn't sell any other aspect of the film's wild and original art style. The two-disc set comes in a non-eco Viva Elite Blu-ray case holding both the Blu-ray and DVD copy, with a glossy slipcover featuring identical artwork, and there is no insert.

The Video and Audio
GKids' 1080p AVC presentation (in the 2.39:1 aspect ratio, despite the packaging claiming 1.85:1) is crisp and clean, fully rendering the bright colors and both tangible and digital details of the animation. There is no issue with banding or artifacting that I could see. A DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 helps sell the disaster movie ambience of the movie, while also clearly prioritizing the celebrity voice cast. Music is rendered nicely as well. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing are also provided, along with French subtitles.

The Extras
First, "The Art of My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea" (13:08) provides an overview of what went into designing a few of the movie's key visual sequences, including the "casting" of other animators to come work on the project and bring their unique styles to the film, and the actual nuts-and-bolts production of each sequence. Dash name-checks Lotte Reiniger as an influence, which is cool. This is followed by a collection of other short films by Dash Shaw: Baroness (1:09), Cosplayers (1:10), New School Trailer (1:04), Bottomless Belly Button (1:01), and Bodyworld (1:14). Each of these is a short burst of style that one can see developed in the feature, and all are worth a peek. Several appear to be advertisements for Shaw's books.

Lastly, under the "setup" menu, one can find an audio commentary by Dash Shaw for the main feature. It's a little disappointing that he isn't joined by lead animator Jane Samborski (also his wife), but unlike the featurette, in which he comes off a little nervous, he seems more prepared and covers a number of topics about the production of the film that he doesn't cover in the video extra.

An original theatrical trailer for My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea is also included.

My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea has some of the hallmarks of a first-time filmmaker working to translate his existing style into a new format, but the film is ultimately carried by Shaw's boundless imagination. Short and relatively sweet, the film may not resonate for very long, but it is charming and dazzling in equal measure. Recommended.

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