The Matrix franchise is known for hosting a wealth of heady ideas behind its action-packed set pieces. Released in 2003, The Animatrix represents one of the most comprehensive sources of Matrix lore for series historians, while also providing an insanely fun viewing experience. Much like Star Wars: Visions, The Animatrix creates a series of short stories by handing over the creative reins of the established Matrix franchise to leading Japanese animation studios, with the Wachowski’s overseeing as producers. The result is an essential viewing for fans of the series. We’ve created a guide to each vignette, with notes as to how they connect to the greater film series.
The Second Renaissance Part I
The Second Renaissance Part 1 & 2 are the only shorts within The Animatrix written by the Wachowskis sisters. Set in the mid-21st century, The Second Renaissance Part 1 details mankind’s creation of sentient robots, who are built to look like humans. Bipedal with two arms, they are “created in mankind’s own image”. Robots are primarily utilized for menial labor, and with many humans being released from their jobs, humanity becomes increasingly corrupt and full of malaise. In 2090, the android B1-66ER kills its owner, their pets, and a mechanic commissioned to decommission it, in an act of self-defense. The civil rights activist and lawyer defending the android quotes from the Dred Scott v. Sandford case in his closing statement, which argued that African Americans were not entitled to United States citizenship and advocated for not repeating history’s mistakes. The defense loses the case, and B1-66ER is disposed of.
Robots across the world riot, staging protests such as the Million Machine March in the US and Europe. Robots and their human supporters are killed en masse to prevent a larger uprising. Survivors create a new civilization in the desert of Mesopotamia, dubbing it Zero One, a reference to binary notation. The new human city of The Matrix Resurrections is called IO, a direct parallel to the naming convention used in The Animatrix. Zero One produces highly advanced AI products, and as such, their economy prospers while human civilization falls. The global stock market crashes. The United Nations Security Council meets at the UN headquarters in New York City to vote on an embargo and military blockage on Zero One. Two ambassadors from Zero One join and attempt to come to a peaceful conclusion to no avail.
The Second Renaissance Part II
Striking a notably more somber and defeatist tone, The Second Renaissance Part II picks up immediately after the events of Part I. The United Nations unsuccessfully attempts to wipe out Zero One, and war breaks out between the two parties. One by one, mankind is forced to surrender their territories. Becoming increasingly desperate, humans initiate Operation Dark Storm, a program that utilizes nanites to block out all sunlight across the globe, robbing the robot forces of the solar energy they need to fight. The program is effective in killing off old model robots, and for a brief moment, it appears that the robots have been crippled past the point of recovery. However, the robots produce new models that look similar to the sentinels from the live-action films. Additionally, the lack of sunlight hurts the human forces as it eliminates their ability to grow crops.
The new machines are formidable opponents and, in addition to being strong physical adversaries, launch biological warfare against humans. The machines develop a new form of energy, utilizing the bio-energy stored in human bodies, and turn the tide of war with this newfound energy source. The later years of the war turn into a ruthless hunting spree, and construction begins on the infamous towers used to store humans in pods from the live-action films. As the few human representatives surrender to machines at the UN headquarters, a representative of Zero One detonates a hidden bomb and destroys the New York City-based headquarters. The machines then create the first iteration of the matrix to keep their newfound energy sources sedated.
Breaking from the historical, documentarian-like style of the first two shorts in the film, Program spends its runtime with two primary characters; Cis (Hedy Burress), and her sparring partner-slash-lover Duo (Phil LaMarr). The short is set against the backdrop of a feudal Japanese samurai battle, where we join Cis and Duo as they spar. Duo asks Cis if she regrets taking the red pill and if she ever misses her peaceful life in the virtual world. As Cis overpowers Duo, he informs her that he wishes to speak to her in private and has blocked the signal so the operator cannot hear their conversation. Cis assumes that Duo will propose marriage, but he instead informs her that he’s been in contact with the machines and plans to re-enter the matrix, and wishes for her to join him.
The fight between the two becomes increasingly heated, and Cis eventually overpowers Duo, killing him shortly after he states his love for her. She is then pulled from the simulation and informed that it was merely a test which she has passed. Out of anger, Cis punches the messenger, Kaiser (John DiMaggio). He reiterates that aside from punching him, she has passed the test. The (simulated) framing device of a human wishing to return to the matrix directly mirrors Cypher’s (Joe Pantoliano) motivation in The Matrix. Exhausted by the weight of the real world, Cypher hands Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) over to the Agents on the condition that he will re-enter the matrix, stating “Ignorance is bliss”.
For many viewers, the story of Neo (Keanu Reeves) breaking free from the matrix is indicative of his role as “The One”. However, within the world of The Matrix, it’s noted that only those with “a rare degree of intuition, sensitivity, and a questioning nature” are capable of breaking free on their own, and World Record details such an individual. The story follows Dan Davis (Victor Williams), an athlete who set a world record 100m track time of 8.99 seconds in the Olympic games. Accused of doping, he aims to race again to prove his critics wrong, with the support of his father and a reporter.
Shortly before the race is set to begin, Dan is shown to be observed by four agents. As the race starts, the muscles in Dan’s leg violently rupture. Determined, he pushes on and passes his opponents. Sensing that his signal is unstable, the agents occupy the racers closest to Dan in an attempt to stop him, which proves to be unsuccessful. Breaking free of the matrix’s grasp, Dan awakes briefly in his pod, where a sentinel subsequently shocks him and sends him back. He is shown to have beat his previous record, completing the race in 8.72 seconds but his body is destroyed.
Cutting forward in time, Dan is shown in a hospital, sitting in a wheelchair. The agents discuss wiping his mind of all memories of the race and the real world, but, proving to be incredibly resilient, Dan whispers the word “free” before standing from his wheelchair, breaking all of the screws out of his legs.
Kid’s Story takes place during the time between The Matrix and The Matrix Reloaded, where Neo works with the crew of the Nebuchadnezzar to free humans from the matrix. Kid (Clayton Watson), a teenage boy in the matrix, ponders why his dreams feel more real than reality. Scribbling in his notebook, he writes the names “Neo” and “Trinity”, as well as the phrase “get me out of here”. He receives a call on his cell phone from Neo while he is in class, warning him that there are agents coming for him. Cornered on the roof of his school by those very agents, Kid jumps from the roof and dies.
Kid later wakes in the real world, where Neo and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) are standing over him. They note that he is the first case of self-substantiation, or somebody removing themself from the matrix unaided. Kid’s Story is the only short featuring Keanu Reeves’ Neo, and additionally, shares the visual motif of self-substantiation shown in The Matrix Resurrections attempted by Neo to escape the new matrix program. Kid makes subsequent appearances in both The Matrix comics and The Matrix Revolutions with Watson reprising the role.
A relatively simple premise, Beyond follows a teenage girl, Yoko (Hedy Burress), on her quest to find her cat, Yuki. A group of young boys tells Yoko that her cat was spotted by a local haunted house. Inside the house is a series of glitches in the matrix, from a bottle that reforms after being smashed, to a room that rains despite a sunny sky. Yoko finds Yuki in a trippy outdoor area where shadows are not aligned with their beings. She rejoins the young boys in a room where the rules of gravity seem to not apply, and the group exploits the oddities of the house for fun.
A group of agents, aware of the anomalies and dress as exterminators, move into the building and remove the children; but not before Yoko finds a door that opens to a vast black void. Yoko returns the next day to find the building has been transformed into a parking lot. The group of boys attempts to replicate the odd anomalies to no avail.
A Detective Story
The second story to feature Carrie-Anne Moss’ Trinity, A Detective Story follows down on his luck noir detective Ash (James Arnold Taylor) as he follows the hacker Trinity on an anonymous tip. He later finds her following clues from Alice in Wonderland, and the two meet on a passenger train car where she removes a bug implanted in Ash’s eye by the agents. The two are ambushed by a trio of agents, one of whom tries to inhabit Ash’s body. Trinity is forced to shoot Ash, telling him that he could have handled the truth before escaping out a window. Fatally wounded, Ash lights a cigarette as the agents stand over him, calling Trinity, “A case to end all cases,” before his lighter, and his life, extinguish.
An early shot of Matriculated shows Alexa (Melinda Clarke) staring out over the sea, waiting for robots to descend on her location. Alexa and her teammates are part of a group who aims to capture, educate, and rehabilitate machines to work alongside humans. She captures a highly intelligent robot, a “runner”, and plunges it into their version of a matrix. She shows it a range of emotions and establishes a bond with the machine.
While this is happening, the rebel outpost is attacked by sentinels. The humans fight alongside their newly converted and green-eyed robotic allies. The newly ‘converted’ runner plugs a dying Alexa into their matrix, where she screams in horror before dying in real life. The final scene shows the runner staring out over the sea as Alexa did in the opening shot of the film. Matriculated introduces the idea of rebels working alongside machines which is further explored in 2021’s The Matrix Resurrections. In Resurrections, a pivotal development to the new human city of IO that exists 60 years after the events of the original trilogy is that it was built through the collaboration of humans and machines.
Final Flight of the Osiris
The final film of the anthology, Final Flight of the Osiris, opens with Jue (Pamela Adlon) and Captain Thadeus (Kevin Michael Richardson) sword fighting in a martial arts dojo. The two playfully cut away each other’s clothes until they are in only their underwear. They are awoken by an alarm, as operator Robbie (Tom Kenny) notifies the crew of a group of sentinels attempting to drill into Zion.
Jue and Thadeus kiss before parting ways, as Jue re-enters the matrix to warn Zion of the sentinel attack. She places a package in a mailbox, which later becomes the opening for the Enter the Matrix video game. Their ship is overrun by sentinels and explodes, killing the entire crew of the ship; and Jue’s body falls lifelessly to the ground in the matrix as her body has died in the real world. The film falls chronologically between The Matrix and Enter the Matrix, with events taking place concurrently with The Matrix Reloaded, with characters from Reloaded making reference to the Osiris.