When three Estonian kids are left in the country to spend the summer with their dairy farming grandpa, they expect nothing but boredom and toil. And if it were up to the weird old man, that’s all they would get. They’d shovel pig waste out of the barn while he spent all day tugging on cow teats.
Milk in his little village seems to be almost a religion. Every day the villagers crowd around the barn, begging for milk. And the Old Man provides with an energetic show of teat pulling that sprays that milk everywhere. The problems arise when the kids take pity on the beleaguered cow and untie it so it can roam the barn. It gets loose, and as an opening scene tells us, an unmilked udder is a disaster in waiting. If a cow goes more than 24 hours without relief, the udder will explode, blanketing the countryside in milky death.
It’s happened before, and the Old Milker who was at ground zero is still there in town, waiting, watching. He’s more milk than man now, and he believes all cows must die. So, while the Old Man just wants to recover his cow, the Old Milker wants to find it and behead it. It’s the beginning of the end for all cowkind.
This all might make more sense (maybe) if it’s understood that The Old Man Movie is animated. It’s a stop-motion animation film from Estonia, based on an apparently popular web-series. It has an oddly dichotomous aesthetic, where the sets and backgrounds have a decent sense of realism to them, while the characters mostly look like barely molded lumps of clay. Their voices sound less like characters and more like some guy doing annoying voices. The animation is clunky, and overall goofiness is the point, rather than realism or immersion.
Still, for much of the show it works. The Old Man Movie‘s story has an organic weirdness to it, from the village’s milk obsession to the journey to recover the cow. This takes our kids, a boy, and a girl, into the forest from a hippy festival where the cow becomes the main attraction to a Tree God with secret amorous intent. Eventually they encounter an enormous bear. He swallows the boy whole, who meets a mentor while stuck in the bear’s colon. The mentor happens to be an Estonian rock star, and he gives the boy the wisdom he needs to turn the Old Man away from his blatant cow abuse.
This all leads to a climax that is too absurd to describe. It involves a massive robot cow, human-cow hybrids, and an apocalyptic milk shooting fight. What makes it entertaining is that the various odd interludes are not bizarre random encounters. The story has a decent structure and flow to it, and though the happenings are absurd, they don’t come out of nowhere. This movie is really, really weird. But the weirdness works in the story.
Visually, the most interesting character is the Old Milker. Literally suffused with milk, he’s constantly dripping milk, leaking milk. He cries vanilla ice cream. Things are always pouring out of him… because this movie is also disgusting. The crude but obvious sexual metaphor of teat-yanking is played for all its worth. Milk and other bodily fluids are routinely sprayed in people’s faces, and there’s poop and fart humor galore. There are also some bouts of gory violence.
All of that is par for the course for adult animated comedy. What’s gratifying in The Old Man Movie is that the humor isn’t just that. There’s some drier wit. The Old Milker hires a trio of unemployed lumberjacks (all missing various limbs) who constantly follow his bizarre, murderous orders with resignation: “A man has to work, after all.” The Old Man takes to heart that his abuse of the cow lead to this situation, but decides his only fault was being too moderate in his misconduct. “I will make the barn a prison!”
And the production design is often surprisingly appealing and detailed, in contrast to most of the characters. I say most because, perversely, the less time we spend with characters the more detailed their models become. All three of the children look more or less like rocks that have semi-human features. Meanwhile, the hippies at the festival are all distinct and semi-human looking, and the rock star in the bear belly looks a lot like the actual person playing him (Jacob Kreem, from the Terminators. Yeah, he’s disappointed no one in the movie has ever heard of him, either.)
Perverse, odd, deliberately off-putting at times, The Old Man Movie is a lot like other independent animated films that aren’t aiming for a kid’s audience. It has the edgy sense of humor, the violence, and scatological aspects. What makes the film succeed is a sense of consistency. It has this absurd story of the milk-pocalypse, and it runs with it whole hog. The Old Man Movie takes a bizarre, maybe dumb premise, and takes it to its limits. It’s kinda stupid, but it’s dumb with a sense of integrity.
The Old Man Movie has been released on Blu-ray by MVD Visual. It has the original Estonian language with English subtitles, and an English dub which I sampled, and did not enjoy. Other extras include a set of Old Man shorts, with even cruder animation and character design, but with the similar sense of absurd humor as the film. These run about two minutes a piece.