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Western Animation / Skywhales

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Skywhales is a 1983 animated short film created by Derek Hayes and Phil Austin. The short is a window into the daily lives of a society of alien creatures who live on a floating island in the atmosphere of a gas giant. It follows one particular alien as he heads out to help hunt the titular skywhales, which are a source of food for his people. One significant tribal custom introduced early on is the appearance of a subset of the population with dead white skin color and dark black eyes; encountering them causes the people to shield their eyes and let them pass. The reason for this becomes clear in the end...

One notable feature of the short is though the aliens speak in a fabricated language, none of it is subtitled, leaving the viewer themself to work out the finer points of what's going on.


It was shown in cinemas in the United Kingdom in 1984, playing before the film 1984. It can be found on British Animation Collection Volume 1 DVD along with a number of other animated shorts.

The short contains examples of:

  • Alien Blood: The Sky Whales have blue blood, and that presumably goes to the tribal aliens as well.
  • Alien Sky: Two moons can be seen in the planet's night sky.
  • Bamboo Technology: The alien tribe seem pretty primitive but they've invented flying machines that use pedal power.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Either has one of these or a Downer Ending, most likely depending how bad you feel about the skywhale getting killed early on.
  • Bizarre Alien Reproduction: One interpretation of the ending is that there's nothing supernatural going on, and instead the aliens' humanoid forms are actually "larval" or juvenile forms for the Skywhales.
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  • Downer Ending: Could be interpereted as this. It's certainly not a happy ending by any means.
  • Floating Continent: The aliens live on a floating island on a gas giant.
  • Giant Flyer: The titular Skywhales—they certainly live up to their name.
  • Humanoid Aliens: The unnamed hunters have human builds but alien heads.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: Since the skywhales are transformed (or perhaps matured) versions of the alien people, the latter are effectively cannibals in how they kill and eat them. What makes it all the more strange and unsettling is that it's implied that at least some of the villagers know this.
  • Karmic Transformation: The protagonist kills a skywhale for its meat and in the end is transformed into one himself.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Is the transformation into a Skywhale a karmic punishment or part of the aliens' life cycle?
  • Minimalism: The small scope of the story and the use of an untranslated alien language means that the plot is carried out solely by the actions of the characters, and the rest is up for the audience to determine.
  • Monochromatic Eyes: The eyes of the tribe members who are going to become new skywales turn black along with their skin turning white.
  • No Antagonist: It's just hunter and hunted. See White-and-Grey Morality.
  • Oh, Crap!: The protagonist's wife and son have this reaction when he turns white, which signals the start of his transformation.
  • Pink Means Feminine: The hunter's wife wears pink clothes, probably to clue the viewer into her role.
  • Space Whale: The titular skywhales.
  • Space Whale Aesop: A literal example: kill a space whale for its meat and you'll be turned into one yourself.
  • Starfish Aliens: The skywhales again. Ironically they look much more like rays than whales.
  • Twist Ending: The Skywhales and the aliens who hunt them are one and the same.
  • The Unintelligible: The aliens communicate in an odd, hooting language but none of it is ever translated for the viewer.
  • Wham Shot: That moment we finally see what happens to the aliens who are afflicted with the unusual Monochromatic Eyes condition changes everything about the predator-prey relationship between the aliens and the skywhales.
  • White-and-Grey Morality: The tribe just want to have enough to eat and the skywhales are just animals driven by instinct.