Joe Versus the Volcano & MoonBot Studios’ “The Scarecrow”


Buttercup: You mock my pain!

Man in Black: Life IS pain, Highness; anyone who says differently is selling something.

In MoonBot Studios’ animated short, The Scarecrow (also an intro to their interactive app & Scarecrow game), the Oscar-earning team led by William Joyce & Brandon Oldenburg brings you pain and beauty. And contrary to the truth espoused by The Man in Black, they’re (*gasp*!) selling something! Or at least they were hired by/collaborated with Chipotle Mexican-food chain, who is selling the idea of fresh and honest food production.

I’m one of the cult fans of the 1990 Hanks & Ryan pair-up, Joe Versus the Volcano; I immediately thought of main character, Joe Banks, when I saw that Scarecrow’s face, and as I watched hope begin to resurface as he recovers his identity as Scarecrow.

Screen shot 2011-05-03 at 13.24.34I just want to savor the beauty of the story this little animation tells, and the sweetness of the similar moments between the scarecrow’s brokenhearted awareness and Joe Banks’ awakening to beauty in his humdrum world. The Scarecrow walks into work like Joe Banks, just another drone heading into his dull workplace. Joe spies a crushed flower growing between the concrete; stooping to lift its face back up to the sun, Joe begins to acknowledge his own deep unrest and begins to wonder what he can do to shake up the hopelessness he feels.

Joe also tries to draw out the beauty and humanity of Meg Ryan’s first character. She personifies increasingly more confident women throughout the film, coinciding with Joe’s growing self-worth. “DeDe”, a woman with mousy brown hair, tentative and afraid of Joe’s newfound confidence, has sweet brown eyes that are mournfully similar to the cow that the Scarecrow spies in her automated milking cube.

Both are trapped and held back from their full and intended life as individuals – even the cow has a dignity being denied in the Crow Corporation.


The Scarecrow tells a story of how The Crow Corporation took away the scarecrow’s identity: as former protector of the world’s food, the relationship is now broken and the scarecrows are relegated to lowly handyman. But, the story suggests, we can put identity back in its right place. In the person of the hero Scarecrow, we see how we can restore order to our world; that’s what MoonBot & Chipotle says in the premise of the ad.

Several beautiful moments in two different productions reflect similar truths and bring me great joy.

I’d like to look past the financial investment that Chipotle has in this advertisement, to win customers and make money, and hazard a guess: that Chipotle got what they asked for, a lovely gem of advertising, and we get the rest. We get the inspiration of seeing a story about pain told in a beautiful way. We get ART. MoonBot Studios did what Chipotle asked, mmm and a little bit more. Sell the thing AND stay true to your own creative identity? While working for one of the pseudo-giant corporations we’re in the act of distrusting in the “Scarecrow” ad? Cue Mary Poppins saying, “Cheeky”, both scolding and appreciative.


We’re all ready to step away from Nonentity towards Identity, like Joe & The Scarecrow. I LOVE patterns in storytelling, and identity-finding is one of the best. Thanks, MoonBot, for presenting the hope that rests in earning our Individuality and for reminding us that a first step looks pretty small inside the Big Ugly World – but it’s worth taking that step to reclaim ourselves. Thank you for stooping, like Joe, to lift that crushed flower in the concrete jungle.

Forget the burrito; you’ve helped this person believe that the art I want to make and the time that seems so far from me right now, just might still be possible if I can hold on to my bit of courage and creativity long enough to make it happen.

LESLIE’S ADDENDUM (added 6/16/14): I was wrong on two counts! Chipotle sounds like they were an unusually great company to work for – and, perhaps most importantly, I was wrong not to credit the film’s co-directors: Brandon Oldenburg & Limbert Fabian. Awesome work, @Brandonbot & @Fabian, and THANK YOU again for this gem of a film! Way to help
Keep advertising Art – keep making advertising that’s art…oh shoot, this pun could keep going. ANYhoo, here’s a great behind-the-scenes interview from Fall 2013 with Fabian & Oldenburg, with more insight into their creation. ~ enjoy!

One response to “Joe Versus the Volcano & MoonBot Studios’ “The Scarecrow”

  1. Have faith.
    To quote Charles Chaplin: “I believe that faith is an extension of the mind. It is the key that negates the impossible. To deny faith is to refute oneself and the spirit that generates all our creative forces.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s