How Sean Ono Lennon Helped His Parents Send a Message

Three years ago, Sean Ono Lennon was asked to develop a music video for the 50th anniversary of “Happy Xmas (War Is Over),” the 1971 protest song by his parents, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, which has become a rare type of perennial — a warmhearted Christmas tune that doubles as an antiwar challenge, telling ordinary citizens that peace can be achieved “if you want it.”

But Lennon, 48, was not interested in making a simple video. That “felt unnecessary” for such a well-known track, he said in a recent interview. What intrigued him more was the possibility of expanding the song’s message through a narrative film. After about two years of work, that project became “War Is Over! Inspired by the Music of John & Yoko,” directed by Dave Mullins, which was nominated for an Academy Award for best animated short film.

The 11-minute picture is set in a World War I-like battle zone where two soldiers on opposing sides take part in a secret chess game, communicating their moves via a homing pigeon that dodges bombs over a snowy No Man’s Land. In the story’s climax, both armies are ordered into bloody hand-to-hand combat while the opening lines of John and Yoko’s song ring out: “So this is Christmas/And what have you done?”

“It’s not about mining the past,” Lennon said of the project. It’s aimed at “people who have not grown up with the same culture and art that most people my age and older take for granted.”Credit…ElectroLeague

For Sean Lennon, who in recent years has gradually taken on the responsibility of managing his parents’ artistic legacies — his mother, 91, has officially retired — the film is part of a continual process to keep that work relevant for younger generations. He is well aware that even a Beatle’s classic can fade away without tending.

“It’s not about mining the past,” Lennon said by phone. “You’re competing with generations of people who have not grown up with the same culture and art that most people my age and older take for granted. So, for me, it’s very important that the message of peace and love, which may be a trope, are not forgotten.”

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