Colonialism, capitalism and the West's abrasive association with Islam are densely compressed into a partially animated, mostly satisfying history lesson in satirical fable cum docu-essay "Global Haywire: A Short History of Planet Malfunction."

Colonialism, capitalism and the West’s abrasive association with Islam are densely compressed into a partially animated, mostly satisfying history lesson in satirical fable cum docu-essay “Global Haywire: A Short History of Planet Malfunction.” Directed, drawn and conceived by Oz political cartoonist and 1976 Oscar-winning animator (“Leisure”) Bruce Petty, ambitious pic occasionally creaks under the weight of strained metaphors, but intelligent talking heads and engagingly shambolic cartoons conquer unwieldy narrative and sporadic glibness. Pic’s local release, coinciding with upcoming, but unannounced, Australian elections, will reap strong arthouse interest. Fests and pubcasters campaigning for stimulating political fare will also vote for this.

Combining Petty’s trademark rough animation, real thesps and archival footage, pic deploys as a framing device a fictional international committee examining the political and social phenomenon of “global haywire.”

After contemplating the Crusades, which first saw Europeans profit from the wealth and wisdom of Middle Eastern Muslims, the committee considers the responsibilities of an archetypal Western inventor named Vince. Latter created a centuries-old traveling machine that accommodates passengers in two highly stratified categories, Deck A (for the First World) and Deck B (for, surprise, surprise, the Third World).

Bulwarked by interviews with leftist commentators Noam Chomsky, Robert Fisk, George Monbiot and Gore Vidal, Vince’s fable illustrates how those greedy twins, colonialism and capitalism, are fearful of the global democracy they espouse, and have ensnared the world in a self-destructive spiral. Avoiding the pratfall of falling prey to the very problem they seek to expose, speakers such as Palestinean architect and activist Suad Amiry and Sydney-based academic Amin Saikal ensure that the Arab world gets to speak for itself, too.

Vox pops with university students from around the globe strive to create relevance and a youthful atmosphere for the film’s debate.

While Petty’s narrative occasionally loses direction, his certainty of purpose never waivers. Left-leaners will be most inspired by this effort, but all stripes should find some food for thought.

Reminiscent of the mechanical contraptions created by Petty’s New Yorker magazine predecessor, Rube Goldberg, the pic’s visually complex illustrations are an acquired taste and may overwhelm some auds. Nevertheless, they contain an essential simplicity and political directness that appealingly usurp the cluttered visual style.

Thesps playing members of the committee (alongside cartoon figures and Terry Gilliam-esque cutouts) are somewhat wooden. Narration by British thesp Tom Baker hits the right note of dry humor and veiled disdain for a world wobbling on its axis like a wonky gyroscope.

Kaleidoscopic editing and sound design by Petty’s son Sam, as well as the soundtrack by Elena Kats-Chernin, do much to propel the film’s narrative and help entertainment value keep step with its discursive, intellectual discussion.

Global Haywire: A Short History of Planet Malfunction

Australia

Production

A Film Finance Corp. Australia presentation of a Bruce Petty Films production. (International sales: Hopscotch Films, Sydney.) Produced by Claude Gonzalez. Executive producer, Susan MacKinnon. Directed, written by Bruce Petty.

Crew

Camera (color/B&W, HD), Michael Pearce; editor, Sam Petty; music, Elena Kats-Chernin; sound, Michael Pearce, Matt O'Brien, Andy Postal, Martin Harrington; sound designer, Sam Petty; animation, Bruce Petty. Reviewed at Sydney Film Festival, June 16, 2007. Running time: 79 MIN.

With

Robyn Nevin, Barry Otto, Marjella O'Shea, Juliet Darling, Winnie Shih, Gore Vidal, Arundhati Roy, Noam Chomsky, Robert Fisk, George Monbiot, Tariq Ali, Suad Amiry, Amin Saikal. Narrator: Tom Baker.

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