“Runaway“, a 2009 short film by Cordell Barker, is an exuberant tale of slapstick proportions, suffused with a social commentary that lends the film a license to double as sobering metaphor. A train conductor’s dalliance with a passenger leaves his assistant alone to steer the train, and when the car hits a cow grazing on the railway tracks, it spirals out of control as the train inadvertently gets pushed to operate at its maximum speed.
Beautifully drawn in whimsical actions and hyperbolic landscapes, the film is a wonderful combination of free-hand style animation and computer graphics, which are utilized to their best effect with Barker’s assured direction of incisive cuts and action-packed compositions. Using colour to clearly delineate the class difference between the two passenger cars that comprise the train, there is a focus granted upon the two distinct bodies, by subjecting the lower class to a motley of mismatched colours and the upper class a regal lavender and reserved black.
At its climactic turn, the film pits the upper class against the lower as the train struggles to surmount a difficult hill climb; one that is so arduous as to require more fuel than the train was stocked for. Fresh out of coal and needing additional materials to burn, the upper class begins to solicit items from the lower in a bid to push the train forward—clothes, furniture, the floor boards of their car. Left barren and bare, the lower class is then dislodged from the upper through a removal of the pin coupling their car, left not even with the money that was given to buy everything they had.
Life is not without its equilibrium and irony, as the train can very much be a metaphor for the continuum of the world. As the weight of the extant passenger car no longer carries the burden of the lower class, the engine now overcompensates, resulting in a fiery end for the remaining passengers. Read as an indictment of the income disparity between both classes, the film may be a reminder that we all exist in the same economy and ecosphere; we cannot exist on our own, and we must unite to survive in the long term.