Daily Archives: April 14, 2019

The Cow Who Wanted to Be a Hamburger (2010)

*. I might as well begin with the end credits, where the producer is described as a “fancy burger lover” while the director, Bill Plympton, is (only) a “burger lover.”
*. Why is this significant, or necessary to say? I think because it’s easy to see The Cow Who Wanted to Be a Hamburger as being, among other things, an argument for vegetarianism. Cartoon cattle frolicking in an idyllic rural environment are rounded up and taken to the slaughterhouse, where they are shocked onto a conveyor belt and duly fed into the familiar (indeed iconic) meatgrinder, coming out hamburger. It’s a voyage from heaven to hell, told in a conventional idiom, and one wouldn’t expect it to come from a pair of burger lovers.
*. But while that’s one reading of the film, the credits would seem to suggest that it’s really about something else. What that something else is appears to be a message about the effect of advertising on body image. The calf in the pasture sees a burger billboard and wants to attain the status of a pure object of desire: literally, a piece of meat. So she becomes a workout warrior and bulks up and is finally chosen to be America’s Next Meal. One should be careful what one wishes for. Our goals may be self-destructive.
*. That’s a simple enough idea, and I don’t think this is a complicated film. For a “Plymptoon” its style is a little surprising, being rendered in enamel-like primary colours with thick if trembling outlines around the figures. This is not what you expect a Bill Plympton cartoon to look like. It made me think of a children’s book, with the various characters and objects being like plastic shapes that you could reach out and play with on the page/screen. Why this particular look for this particular film? Perhaps to highlight the incongruity. Body image and the meat industry are actually serious, painful subjects. But here they are presented in a fanciful, playschool kind of way.
*. I think that does undercut the message though. At the end of the day this is a playful bit of fluff without anything very serious to say, something that is underlined by those end credits. Cartoons can be serious stuff. (See, for example, Call of Cuteness, which is an animated short dealing with similar themes.) But this film isn’t. That doesn’t make it bad, just not as interesting as it might have been.