Steve Cutts - Happiness
t’s hard to consistently make work independently as an animator, and the rare creators who are able to ascend to this peak outside the byzantine realm of grants and government sponsorship are lionized names: Don Hertzfeldt, Bill Plympton, David Firth, CGPGrey. The rub, as always, is money, and on one side are YouTube creators that can produce frequently and monetize off ad revenue, and on the other side established artistic icons who have succeeded in cultivating an audience willing to pay them directly.
It’s been a while since a new member has joined these ranks, but I wonder if Steve Cutts, a UK animator/illustrator is set up to do so. The key is to reach a point where every new release is rapturously awaited and received, and with a string of viral hits behind him, and the certainty that this new film, Happiness, will achieve a similar state, Cutts is well on his way to collecting the audience loyalty, and establishing the artistic bona fides to attempt it.
Not that it appears he is really trying. Cutts isn’t particularly prolific on social media, doesn’t employ monetization on his YouTube videos, doesn’t charge for access to his work, nor is his merchandise shop very established. Charmingly though, this makes him an optimist’s case study on the point that what matters the most is the work, which continues to grow in both quality and acclaim. A creator of the internet, he has recently taken on notable creative commissions both popular (a highly coveted gig doing a couch gag for The Simpsons) and artistic (his 2017 music video for Moby earned a top prize at Annecy).
It is purposeful irony on my part to discuss economics at the outset of this review, considering the consistent anti-capitalist themes in Cutts’ art dating back all the way to his breakthrough work, 2011’s In the Fall. Happiness is his most full-throated damnation of the dehumanizing effects of capitalism and consumer culture, and is arguably his best work to date. Depicting a literal “rat race”, the film adopts the structure of Cutts’ most popular work, the S/W-featured and 25M+ viewed, Man, to tell a fast-paced linear montage of one rat’s quest for happiness through the tropes and traps of modern society.