YouTube may have brought the viral video to the masses, but it did not create the viral video. Before the video platform — and Twitter, and Facebook, etc. — launched and gave us the ability to share content with unprecedented ease, viewers waded through aggregation sites to find golden video content. One of those was Rejected, a 35mm animated film created by Don Hertzfeldt, a master of his field who has gone on to influence and impact the industry.
If you lived online in the early aughts, you likely remember Rejected, a hilarious, subversive takedown of TV standards and practices. The animated short runs a scant nine minutes, but covers an unpredictable amount of gruesome ground. There are iconic characters and scenes packed in, like a talking banana, a stick figure with a giant spoon and [content warning!] a lot of blood oozing from a lot of different orifices. What may seem to us now like memetics in motion was, and remains, a victory lap in absurdist animation.
Hertzfeldt primarily showed Rejected at film festivals, garnering a cult fan base throughout 2000. By the time a DVD of it hit retail in 2001, word of mouth cemented the short as a modern classic, the kind of thing people would share over torrents and peer-to-peer download services. Hertzfeldt was quick to flag these for removal, however. YouTube regularly took down versions of the short film uploaded to the platform over the years.
Perhaps it was because he had grown tired of how viewers took the film and reduced it into catchphrases, as he explained in a series of tweets posted alongside the YouTube upload.
“It’s genuinely interesting how REJECTED is maybe 10% less funny today because so many others have done this sort of thing to death over the last 18 years. which is not a complaint at all, it’s just how comedy ages,” he wrote.
“I will say this though, I’ve always felt that it was only funny in the first place because of the setup. and that structure seems to have been forgotten. and the ripple effect was alot [sic] of other people’s characters yelling ‘spoon!’ over & over and that just makes everyone tired.”
Thankfully, Hertzfeldt himself has now made Rejected free to watch in perpetuity through his personal YouTube channel. Taken from the 2015 Blu-ray release of the film, this is Rejected at its most beautiful: remastered in 4K. Maybe the original graininess was part of the charm, but Hertzfeldt’s work looks beautiful, no matter the video quality.
Take a break and watch, or rewatch, Rejected, above. (Then watch World of Tomorrow while you’re at it. Both Rejected and World of Tomorrow were nominated for Oscars — they’re great.)