War Is Over! Inspired by the Music of John and Yoko (2023) Short Film Review

War Is Over! Inspired by the Music of John & Yoko (2023)
Director: Dave Mullins
Screenwriter: Dave Mullins

John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Christmas song “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” may be over half a century old, but its anti-war messaging remains as resonant as ever. In a world ravaged by an invasion in Eastern Europe and a terrifying conflict in the Middle East, the song’s stance against warfare and conflict hits just as hard as it ever did. Dave Mullins’ animated short film is as inspired by the song as its title suggests, War Is Over! being an adaptation of an original story co-written by the son of John and Yoko, Sean Ono Lennon, and telling of how the brightest parts of humanity can exist even within our darkest moments. In 2024, it is an Oscars nominee for Animated Short.

War Is Over! tells of two soldiers playing against each other in a game of chess they are advancing through messages sent via carrier pigeon. They roll up instructions for their next move, place the parchment in the holder on the pigeon’s leg, and let it go. We witness the pigeon flying through no man’s land, doing its best to avoid bullets and mortar on its journey to its destination: the opposing faction.

These moments are beautifully realised by some screen-shaking sound design by supervising sound editor and sound designer Jack Whittaker, and within seconds we begin to care for this relatively small creature that is beautifully brought to life by character designer Max Narciso. The pigeon is life-like in its movements and presentation, but there are strokes of artistry that enhance its appeal as an unknowing but joy-bringing force of togetherness. Round edges, glowing blues and greens on its neck (presented in stark contrast to the browns and whites of the snowy trenches), and typically endearing head tilts and nods, make for an animal protagonist to root for, though one we immediately understand is in service of a greater purpose.

Bold black outlines indicate an artistry in both the character design and the realisation of the animation that is not dissimilar to Across the Spider-Verse’s visual reminders of how each frame is designed and made, enhancing beautifully lit environments and high contrast settings. These choices are particularly praiseworthy when it comes to the design of the human characters, each of whom share a resemblance to those you might find in Klaus and are tasked with communicating without dialogue. To express what the film manages to express without any spoken words is frankly astounding.

A key force behind this achievement is the pacing of the film, which never seems to lose a beat and appropriately crescendos just before we hear the first few notes of the titular song. Director Dave Mullins and editor John K. Carr must be praised for this specific achievement, as their mix of ethereal and urgent sequences gift tension and power to a narrative that presents the same messages as many films we’ve seen before. Their work alongside highly-respected composer Thomas Newman, who worked on Skyfall, American Beauty and The Green Mile as well as fellow war film 1917 and animated classics Finding Nemo and Wall-E, ensures there isn’t a second of this dialogue-less short that will lose your attention. At 11 minutes and 11 seconds, War Is Over! is even timed well. 11:11 was, of course, the date of the World War I armistice; the day it was agreed that all warring parties would put down their weapons.

Each year, the Oscars spotlight some truly wonderful expressions of artistry in the short film categories, and War Is Over! is one of the most unforgettable. While its message has been heard before, it is one that holds a particular strength at this time and is brought to life with imagination and skill. It is star-studded behind the camera, Yoko Ono herself acting as executive producer in addition to the list of respected names already referenced, and still it earns every bit of its Academy Award nomination through an empathy-first, emotive, and resonant reimagining of the song that has come to define many a Christmas.

If you get the chance, make sure you watch War Is Over! Inspired by the Music of John & Yoko.

Score: 24/24

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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