Words like “adorable” and “cute” don’t come readily to mind when talking about Danish director Lars von Trier, but that’s exactly how you can describe the stop motion animated film he made when he was 11 years old. Sure, you can also describe the two-minute short — Turen til Squashland: En Super Pølse Film (The Trip to Squash Land: A Super Sausage Film) — as creepy and vaguely unsettling, adjectives much more commonly applied to the filmmaker.
Von Trier is, of course, cinema’s reigning bad boy. His Antichrist is a scarring descent into madness filled with bad sex, talking foxes and horrifically graphic self-mutilation. Anyone who’s seen the movie will never look at a pair of scissors in the same way. His 2011 movie Melancholia is a glorious ode to depression and global annihilation; a beautiful anti-revelry on how much everything in the world sucks. And his most recent movie, Nymphomaniac, is a 4‑hour long movie — divided in two, Kill Bill style — featuring some of the most joyless unsimulated onscreen couplings this side of the Paris Hilton sex tape.
Turen til Squashland, on the other hand, is about a sentient sausage who rides a black whale to rescue a bunny rabbit. The film was shot by the tweenaged Trier (he added the ‘von’ to his name in film school) on his Super 8mm camera in 1967. In terms of technique and design, it is shockingly good. The short has a naïve sweetness that Wes Anderson often aspires to while having the uncanny dream-like quality of an early David Lynch movie.
It’s tempting to parse Turen til Squashland to gain some insight into von Trier’s later auteurist obsessions. Does von Trier’s tendency to place the vulnerable and the loveable in the clutches of a cruel and heartless villain start here? While the ever-adorable Björk ends up dangling from the end of a rope in Dancer in the Dark, the bunny in this movie thankfully makes it out alive. Castration is another reoccurring theme in von Trier’s work. Does that have anything to do with the free-range sausage protagonist? And does the talking fox in Antichrist have its origins in this movie’s trio of head spinning rabbits?
The one element, however, that has no connection to his later work is the short’s end, which shows a placard reading “Slut.” That has nothing to do with his latest movie or von Trier’s complicated relationship with women. The word “slut” means “The End” in Danish.
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Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow.