Drone Drone

Sean Buckelew’s films often explore the complicated relationship between humanity and technology. His latest short Drone, now available online, is no exception.

Like much of Buckelew’s work, Drone has a simple, life-like aesthetic that can lull a viewer into a false sense of familiarity before turning in another direction altogether. In the film, Buckelew tells the story of a combat drone named Newton that, after a facial identity software malfunction, grows a sense of self and a conscience. Initially meant to be part the face of the government’s rebranded drone program, Newton’s rise to influencer status could hardly have been predicted by the CIA.

The conceit probably sounds familiar, and while watching the short comparisons to Brad Bird’s The Iron Giant are nearly impossible to avoid. But, where Bird looked to the past to tell his story about a self-aware weapon lamenting its programmed nature, Buckelew’s fable is far more current. It also adds a new wrinkle to the tale by reflecting on humanity’s tendency towards group thinking through the filter of social media.

As Newton’s musings are live-streamed to the world, followers tune in by the millions and the drone becomes a bonafide influencer. At one point, it even lands on a rural American street where fans spraypaint a smiley face on its prow.

By the end of the short, it feels like Drone is as much a spoof on The Iron Giant and the affection that so many have for its lead robot as it is a tribute to that classic film. Drone poignantly ends with the CIA announcing a continuation of the drone program while painting Newton’s faces on other UAVs.

Newton’s charisma and affection for humanity do make it a sympathetic character. But are a graffiti smile and a bit of introspection on the ethics of killing enough to convert the masses in favor of a military drone program? You’ll have to watch and decide for yourself.

Drone enjoyed a strong festival run including competition screenings at Annecy, Ottawa, and Sitges. Written and directed by Buckelew, the short was produced by Jeanette Jeanenne, producer of this year’s Oscar-nominated short My Year of Dicks.

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