Sundance 2017 is the festival where cinematic virtual reality is growing up: we’ve got one of the longest VR movies ever made, one of the most sophisticated animated projects, and — outside the festival, but during the same period — the first Oscar nomination for a VR experience.
At the same time, Chocolate is a reminder that the medium can still be very, very weird and silly. Chocolate is the latest creation from Butts and Old Friend director Tyler Hurd, a former Double Fine animator who’s now known for his whimsical VR shorts. It’s only a few minutes long, but every second is goofily delightful.
WHAT’S THE GENRE?
Psychedelic music video.
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
You're a chrome robot in the middle of a platform, surrounded by masked dancers. As you move around, you discover you can project streams of Lisa Frank-esque big-eyed kitties with your virtual hands, which fly into the landscape while pulsing with the beat. Larger, floating cat faces look down on you approvingly, and eventually, a giant cat with a bottle of champagne appears, concluding the festivities.
OKAY, WHAT'S IT REALLY ABOUT?
I'll just let Hurd take this one, based on the description he gave me:
"The story behind it is, you are their robot god and they are doing a ritual dance for you, to provide them with their precious resource, which is the cute cats. And then the cats go into the landscape, which replenishes their ecosystem. And then the big cat that comes out is like their idol, or their chief. I call him a god cat. [...] This is part of his ritual, so he has the champagne bottle — so he's pretty excited to contribute to the ritual, as you provide more cats."
IS IT GOOD?
The score for Chocolate isn't as catchy as the infectious Future Islands song from Old Friend, but the experience makes up for it with sheer giddy joy. It evokes two pieces from festivals past: Fabulous Wonder.land, a 2016 Sundance selection based on a Royal National Theatre production, and Playthings, a 2016 Tribeca selection by George Michael Brower — who Hurd says he's a fan of. Basically, virtual reality directors have figured out that people love colorful, surreal cuteness, and Hurd is a master of the form.
WHAT EMOTIONS ARE INVOLVED HERE?
Is “cats” an emotion?
HOW CAN I ACTUALLY TRY IT?
There’s no release date for Chocolate, but it’s likely to come out sometime this year for high-end headsets like the HTC Vive, at an unannounced price.