‘The Animatrix’ – the animated anthology on Max

'Beyond,' a short story in the Matrix-inspired animated anthology 'The Animatrix.'

The Wachowskis conceived and produced The Animatrix (2003), an anthology of nine original animated short films, as a companion piece to their Matrix trilogy and a tribute to Japanese anime, one of their visual inspirations.

The best pieces are short stories in the Matrix-verse concocted by the Japanese animation veterans: Beyond, a fanciful Miyazaki-in-Matrixland story of ragamuffins finding magic in a programming glitch by Robot Carnival creator Koji Morimoto, and the B&W retro-sci-fi noir A Detective Story by Shinichirô Watanabe (Cowboy Bebop), who creates hazy graphic textures you can almost feel through the screen. The Final Flight of Icarus, the completely CGI prequel to Matrix Reloaded directed by Andy Jones (the animation director of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within), is the least inventive and most literal of the collection. The technology is impressive and the gadgetry and landscapes stunning, but CGI actors still can’t act.

The Wachowskis penned that one themselves, along with the fact-packed introduction The Second Renaissance (a whirlwind tour through the history of the fatal relations between mankind and machinekind from now to Matrix directed by Mahiro Maeda) and Kid’s Story (directed with a pencil sketch raggedness by Watanabe), all of which have a direct connection to the series. The rest merely float through the Matrix-verse with unique takes on the place and highly stylized graphic approaches: Program (written and directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri), World Record (directed by Takeshi Koike), and Matriculated, an AI acid trip written and directed by American animator Peter Chung, creator of Aeon Flux. They’re fun and inventive and short enough that they don’t wear out their welcome.

The Final Flight of Icarus is rated PG-13, the rest have not been rated.

Streams for a limited time on Max

Also on Blu-ray and DVD (individually and in box sets with the Matrix trilogy) and on SVOD through Amazon Video, iTunes, GooglePlay and/or other services. Availability may vary by service.
Animatrix [Blu-ray]
The Ultimate Matrix Collection [Blu-ray]
The Animatrix [DVD]
The Ultimate Matrix Collection [DVD]

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The Blu-ray and DVD editions include the 22-minute documentary “From Scrolls To Screen: The History And Culture Of Anime,” short “making of” documentaries on each short film, director commentaries on four of the shorts (in Japanese with English subtitles), bios, and a trailer for the Matrix video game. All of those supplements are also in the box set collections, which are reviewed here.


Sean Axmaker is a Seattle film critic and writer. He writes the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website, and his work appears at RogerEbert.com, Turner Classic Movies online, The Film Noir Foundation, and Parallax View.

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