It’s a Wednesday so I must be reviewing another short film. This week I’m returning to the glory of Pixar and swooping right back to one of their earliest shorts: Geri’s Game.
Geri’s Game, written and directed by Jan Pinkava, came out in 1997 and (if I’m remembering correctly) was attached to the Bug’s Life film. It follows a tense chess match between Geri with glasses and Geri without, both hoping for the prize of Geri’s false teeth. Following me here? Nervous and fragile, Geri with glasses sets everything off and then makes the first move. He then staggers to the other side of the table, sans glasses, becoming a forceful and competitive chess player taking the second move. This carries on, Geri switching between two sides, until Geri with glasses ends up with only one piece left. He struggles for air and then collapses beneath the table. Geri without glasses peers across anxiously and checks his own pulse but Geri with glasses doesn’t resurface. Then, sneaky Geri with glasses spins the chess board as he clambers back up, switching sides so that he can capture his opponent’s last piece. The teeth are his.
So that was really hard to explain but it’s really easy to understand when you’re watching. Geri’s Game is another film that uses the constraints of the early Pixar animation to strengthen the story. At that time, people would have been time consuming to animate so having one character playing two roles is a really ingenious way to simplify the process. Both Geris are identical apart from the glasses but you can always tell which is which because of the expressions and attitude used. I really appreciate the way that Pixar puts faith in their audience’s ability to understand without being told anything.
This was probably the first Pixar short I ever saw – certainly the first I can remember seeing – and it’s quite surprising to look back at the animation style compared to some of the others. This is one of the films where the animation fits in with the larger film it is attached to, with the rather exaggerated features and rather muted background. If Bugs Life had been about humans then they probably would have looked a lot like Geri. You can also see touches of Toy Story in the chess pieces, with more shine on them than any real objects and a kind of lightness to them (if that makes any sort of sense to anyone other than me). There isn’t the exceedingly stylised and cartoonish animation of certain Pixar shorts, nor the hyper realism they have leaned towards more recently. It’s just fairly typical of what Pixar were producing at the time.
I love Geri’s Game for it’s simplicity and nostalgia but rewatching it did highlight an irritation for me. Admittedly I was watching on youtube and this may have had something to do with it, but the sound just seems… off for a lot of it. The music, in my opinion, doesn’t quite fit and is just rather irritating. Everything else is just over-exaggerated – each chess piece going down seems over-loud and doesn’t fit in relation to the feel of the object, Geri’s staggering steps are too loud for the distance of the shot… It just doesn’t fit as smoothly as I am now used to with Pixar shorts.
I did spend some time after rewatching Geri’s Game thinking about the implications of the two Geris. There is a moment in one of the early scenes where Geri wearing glasses leans back, staring at the empty chair, as if waiting for someone else, and it made me wonder if at one point there was another player in his life. Was the other Geri, without glasses, actually a representation of an old friend of Geri’s? It would explain the different characterisations. It also makes Geri with glasses a much darker character as he sneakily beats his companion. He won at life (by still living) and thus wins at chess? Or perhaps it is an exploration of the polarised nature of people. We are both forceful and fragile but can sneakily use both aspects of ourselves? Most likely, Geri’s Game is simply a quick animation that makes good use of the limitations of the mode.
Even though you can plainly see that Geri’s Game was produced during the infancy of Pixar’s animation, it is most certainly one of my favourite shorts from them. A man having a chess match against himself and winning – who knew it could be so entertaining?