I discovered this short 30 minute film about WWI and it’s quite interesting! It’s animated like a kid’s cartoon, but has much darker elements to it to be considered solely for young children. The story is historical fiction about a soccer team in England joining up to be in the army for the impeding war with Germany. The main characters, Lacy and Will are warned by their mother that war is not a “game”, and that they’re needed on their family’s farm, but it is too late. They have their call up papers for Wednesday. They both enter the scene with enthusiasm eager to defend England and the glory once they return. However, they soon find out the grim reality of WWI in the trenches. They begin to settle in after a while and find out how well the German can shoot when they throw things up into the air. One German even makes a smiley face on a metal plate just by shooting it! This is the first time one gets an inkling that the Germans are human too. Things looked grim again until Christmas eve when the Germans sing “Stille Nacht“. That morning, a German comes out of his trench and bounces around a “foot ball”, challenging the English soldiers to a game of “football” (soccer in America). Will goes out first and soon both sides play a game of football! The fun gets so intense, they end up with 5 goals and 6 balls! Afterwards, both sides get friendly exchanging gifts and stories. However, their superiors get wind and stop the fun. After this, the gloom of war returns and the English soldiers miss their home and football team. The film ends with the English side charging into battle as Will tries to compare it to playing positions in his football games. An explosion goes off and Will is injured badly and lands in a crater with a wounded German. They exchange pictures of the German’s children and Will’s football team. A narrator narrates the rest as Will imagines his team for the last time and closes his eyes peacefully before passing away.
I liked the gentler introduction to the harsh realities of war the film portrayed. The animated style makes it more friendly for a younger audience and it isn’t graphic with blood and guts, but it is very sad especially at the end. I hate to imagine how their family reacted to the news. They were so upset to start with, now their fears were confirmed. I liked how it portrayed the boys as so eager to join and I liked the metaphor in the song “Play the Game” of England having these boys as puppets on a string, being propagandized and manipulated by their government. I also loved how they made sure to humanize the Germans and that they weren’t different from the English soldiers. The bilingual element was cool, as it showed that even with the language barrier, they connected never the less. The ending scene really drove the message of shared humanity home when both the English and German soldier showed each other what was meaningful to them and then died together. The narration at the very end was also very touching.
I think the movie is great for kids actually, despite the sad parts. It shows the harshness of war but in a much more toned down way than adult war movies. It is not as focused on the violence, but on the tragedy of war and the message of shared humanity. Many people think children can only handle “unicorns and rainbows” nowadays, but children need to be exposed to big ideas and ethical dilemmas in order to learn to think critically and be aware of their world. Children need to realize that not everything has a happy ending, and yet, also strikes a balance of not being too graphic too soon. War Game is a great introduction to the history of WWI and to big ideas about the nature of war and shared humanity.