Director Matt Wisniewski’s short film Pappy’s World (2018) is a surreal, jaw-dropping, pleasantly confounding blend of live action and animation. It’s bizarre yet wholly accessible in its telling of the carnage of an evil doll secretly unwrapped before Christmas.
A girl (Jaz Frazier) uses her sleeping grandfather’s cane to reach a box at the top of a tall stack of Christmas presents. She opens the present to find a doll named Pappy that resembles her grandfather (Fred Polone). When she follows the doll’s instructions to “Tickle me!”, she unwittingly unleashes a maelstrom of terror, wartime flashbacks, and all-out insanity.
Wisniewski, who cowrote the screenplay with Polone, created the special effects for the short, which include some terrific puppetry. The set design is simple but effective, giving this reviewer a feeling of a lower budget mash-up of the brightly colored nuttiness of Pee Wee’s Playhouse and the enigmatic craziness of Dave Made a Maze. For example, the living room is adorned with Christmas decorations but gives off a vibe of uneasiness. The insanity that Wisniewski and his crew creates with aluminum foil, cardboard, tinsel, and other simple materials is mind boggling, and cinematographer Pat DePuy captures it all splendidly. The score is as important to the film as the visuals and proceedings, beautifully shifting between folk, jazz, alternative and hard rock, and other styles.
Polone gives a fun performance as Grandpa, with makeup and costume design that recalls James Baskett’s portrayal of Uncle Remus in Disney’s Song of the South that morphs when Grandpa suddenly finds himself thrust back in time. Polone’s romancing a doll’s legs is simultaneously hilarious and unnerving. Frazier is good in her role, too, in which she goes from curious girl to seizure victim and beyond. The Pappy Doll is a scene stealer, with its malevolent glare. This diabolical doll knows how to wield a butter knife.
Pappy’s World is a frenetic, dizzying trip of a short film, guaranteed to leave you feeling perplexed and unsettled.