Over a decade and a half after its release, Don Hertzfeldt’s short animated film, Rejected holds up as a bona fide classic.
The word “viral” is a word that gets thrown around very often in modern times. Whenever there is something that becomes wildly popular in a short amount of time, it is said to be a “viral hit” or “viral sensation.” Videos like “Gangnam Style,” “Double Rainbow,” and, more recently, “Chewbacca Mom” have been accredited as such. However, before the advent of platforms like YouTube, Instagram, or Vine, it was more difficult for something to go viral. There were some websites like Newgrounds, Something Awful, and eBaum’s World that featured content for public consumption, but they were not “mainstream” enough to get worldwide recognition like that of today. Yet, there were some creations that were able to gain cult followings, such as Homestar Runner, Potter Puppet Pals, and the subject of this article, Rejected. Created by California-based animator Don Hertzfeldt, this nine-minute-and-twenty-two-second-long short film was released in 2000, and made its rounds on the Internet, making it one of the earliest viral videos. In addition, it received acclaim from many film festivals, and was nominated for Best Animated Short Film at the 73rd Academy Awards. With its unique visual style and erratic humor, Rejected remains an entertaining piece of animation that serves as an artifact of the early days of online media.
The fictional premise behind the short is that Hertzfeldt was commissioned to create advertisements for two companies. Displeased with how shocking they were, both corporations rejected all the cartoons that he submitted. If one were to use one word to describe Rejected, it would be “unpredictable.” A viewer would have no idea what to expect upon first watching this short film. This non-sequitur nature works to the favor of the animation, as it is amusing to see what random or demented thing will appear on screen next. This is complimented by Hertzfeldt’s minimalist animation. Most of the characters are simplistic, reminiscent of drawings one might see in a schoolchild’s notebook. This helps to illustrate the silly, absurd, and sometimes hellish world in these cartoons. If the animation was more realistic, this may have come off as repulsive or upsetting; instead, it adds to the ingenuity and hilarity of the piece. Rejected is a brilliant short film that keeps the audience at the edge of their seat the whole way through.
Hertzfeldt’s creativity did not go unnoticed, as many people grew to love his first opus. Rejected is a highly quotable short, with lines like “My spoon is too big” and “My anus is bleeding” being referenced in other works. English comedian Tom “TomSka” Ridgewell used Rejected as an inspiration for asdfmovie, a popular series of short animations on YouTube that currently has a total of over thirty-nine million views combined. Rejected was the only short film named by Salon.com as one of the “Films of the Decade” in 2009, and The Huffington Post listed it as one of the five “most innovative animated films of the past ten years” in 2010. While Rejected was a great short film, its visibility in the public conscious ensures that it will be remembered for years to come.