Jens Wernstedt’s 2016 short mockumentary, Mascots Fur Life, creates a sports film with all the usual clichés: the poor underdog that we can all root for, the Rocky-getting-fit montage, the final freeze, and almost all the rest. Crucially, this underdog isn’t a dog at all; rather, he’s an underlion. More precisely, he’s a lion mascot that real, just like (in this story) all mascots. In Wernstedt’s universe, mascots aren’t people in costume but actual living beings, who pay rent and have jobs and attempt to find self-fulfillment. In the case of Willion, the protagonist, his dream is to be an elite, pro football mascot, which is the pinnacle of mascot life.
Like a lot of sports protagonists, Willion is both truly dedicated and rather average. But what he lacks in talent and looks he makes up for in enthusiasm; Willion trains every day, foregoing work, money, and a personal life to try to make it to the big leagues. Of course, he has to have many trials and tribulations along the way. He must fail at first; therefore his final success is so much sweeter.
Mascots Fur Life is at its best—and therefore most absurd—when it’s at its most serious. While these mascots train exhaustively, their clunky bodies appear bizarre and rather useless. In one particularly funny scene, Willion’s friend is holding a boxing heavy bag for Willion while he practices sparring, but he can’t control his own head. Willion punches, and the friend’s absurdly large head ricochets off the bag, again and again, proving that repetition is indeed quite funny. In fact, the film could have more strongly highlighted the ways that these mascots aren’t built for society, illustrating their inability to handle touch phones and open envelopes.
And I think this is the main issue with the film. On the one hand, its photography is crystal clear, its musical choices are perfect, and its visuals accurately deploy the schmaltziness of sports fluff pieces. However, its satirical strain could have benefited from actually exaggerated those qualities more for greater effect. If the goal of the film is to call into question the need for feel-good sports narratives, it may have actually fallen a little short. The question remains: why do mascots exist (in this world) if not to be mascots? Is this a cruel world in which only a few mascots can be their truest selves? In answering that, the film could point to how we idolize sports life, often to the detriment of ourselves.