Shop a Pop Opera, A Moral in Disguise

Shop a Pop Opera is a 12 minute short film created by the creative song writer, producer, animator, and YouTuber from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Jack Stauber. He has made countless videos that include various types of layouts, from claymation and paper cutout animation to digital and 3D animation. Shop a Pop Opera is one of many masterpieces that he has created, and I am willing to show you all of the important morals that, in my opinion, hide beneath a surface full of symbolism, song, and charming animation sequences. 

The video starts with an opening scene of various grocery store items with facial features continuously repeating,, “Shop a Pop Opera” until the screen turns dark, and quickly pans over to reveal a man who appears to be deeply thinking over what yogurt sample to try, as the man running the stand tells him that there’s, “no need to overthink it, just take one.” 

In a moment of panic and confusion, the man quickly leaves the stand and moves on to find his groceries. He takes a look at his list to see the first item which he needs to retrieve, milk.  Right as his eyes begin to scan the aisle searching for the milk, an old woman who appears to be in a wheelchair with an oxygen tank strapped to it starts yelling at him, “Pecan! Pecan!”  to which the man believed that she wanted pecan cookies, and upon him giving her the pecan cookies, she said to him, “Pecan? I – I said pecan! W-What are you deaf?” continued, “Can you pass me the cookies I actually asked for?” Upon hearing this, he quickly turns around and reaches for the nearest box of cookies he could find. 

But, as soon as he turned around to pass them to her, she was nowhere to be found having vanished into thin air. After pondering to himself, “Where did she go?” He quickly moved on and found the milk. Right as he was about to check off MILK on his grocery list, he looked down at the milk just to realize that it was expired. The background quickly turns black and hovers the word E X P I R E D over his head. He then breaks into a sad song in which he asks silly questions like, “What kind of milk were you?” and, “What kind of life did you live through?” and so on to complete a whole rhyme scheme. The song then ends with him saying the comedic line,, “Dairy Beloved, your days are gone, as the grocery list goes on.”

He then finds a newer carton of milk and then proceeds to read the next item on his list, BREAD. He finds the bread section and, as he scans through the shelves, he stumbles upon a rather interesting loaf of bread, which he reads with confusion, “Artisanal Multigrain 12 Nut Vitamin Bread.” Suddenly a hand reaches out to one of the bags of this rather questionable bread as they say, “pardon my reach” in a rather proper way. The camera then reveals the face of the man who grabbed this bread– who hilariously resembles the shape of the bag. He then asks this mysterious man if it was just some, “good sandwich bread or-” to which the man interrupts with a smirk, followed by, “Oh! This is for my dog! I get my bread from Ronzonto’s. He makes the only edible bread in town, really.”

Right as he is about to ask one last question, the bread man quickly interrupts him and says,, ” Oh, I really must be going. There’s an antique walnut auction downtown and I must find something mid-century.” He then tells the man that it, “sounds like an interesting event”, and right after thanking him, he was on his way. He then looks back at the bread from earlier and once again the background turns black, just that this time the word A R T I S A N A L hovers over his head, after which he begins to sing a song about living an, “artisanal life,” as he calls it. He says various phrases such as, “Is it excess when I talk less?” and, “I let my things talk for me” and, “What will I say when they go away and I’m on my own again?”

After the song ends, he finds a different type of bread, to which he says, “Alright, this looks decent,” and adds it to his cart. He then reads on his list the next item, PAPER TOWELS. The camera zooms out to reveal a couple on the opposite side of the aisle he was in. The man in the other aisle tells his girlfriend, “Sorry babe, there’s no vegan hotdog buns back here either,” as the boyfriend crouches down to look behind a shelf. When he tries to get up, he bumps his head against the shelf overtop of him, dropping and shattering a  jar of jam on the other side of the aisle.

Right as it fell to the ground, an employee of the store appeared behind the man on the other aisle and asked with a deep voice, “did you just break that?”, to which he replied that he didn’t. The employee then crouched down to pick up the shattered glass with his bare hands, resulting in him cutting his finger. He asked if he was okay and told him that he was bleeding, to which the employee mysteriously responded, “don’t worry it’s just mine.” The man then asked the employee where the paper towels were, when the employee interrupted and said to himself in an ominous tone,, “This glass shattered instantly, but it would take someone like you and me days, maybe weeks to put it back together to how it was, and still, it will never be the same.”

The man asked again where the paper towels were, just to be interrupted once more by the employee saying once again in an ominous tone,, “Same as my finger; open in a second, but it takes days to heal.” He asked one more time, and the employee finally replied with, “They’re in aisle 8.” And the more of them that you use, the bigger the mess you make.” The song introduction sequence once again occurs panning the word MESS over the screen, just that much faster than the other times it was presented. The man then breaks into song once again and sings about how mess is, “irreversible, unraveling and unstoppable.” He then proceeds to ask himself, “How can I contain this non-stop endless spreading bane?” and, “Can I put a halt on mine?.” The song ends with him finding a cleaning rag which he then plops into his cart.

He then continues reading the list. Just as he did when reading all the other items on the list, he begins to read OATMEAL outloud, but is quickly interrupted by a rushed sounding voice saying, “Excuse me can you please move your cart out of the way? If I can’t get to the frozen food aisle in the next 3 seconds I’m gonna- thanks pal, now I’m not gonna be able to have peas with my dinner this Wednesday.” He then asks the rushed man, “Wait, you have your dinners planned out through this Wednesday?” to which he replied, “If I could I’d have my dinners planned out for the next decade. What do you just eat when you’re hungry? Your body’s like a clock you know. If you don’t plan accordingly you could… Wait, how long have we been talking right now? I don’t have time to talk right now. I just sacrificed peas for standing here, bagels for explaining the body’s like a clock to you, now I’m gonna miss getting peanut butter because of having to assess what I missed just now.” 

He then turns around to look for the oatmeal and finds himself with a box of plain oatmeal and finds that, “Wow, a whole box of it isn’t that expensive. “100 bowls of oatmeal.” I wouldn’t have to eat anything else for the rest of my life.”  The background once again fades to black but, instead of revealing a word, it reveals the days of the week as displayed on a calendar. He then proceeds to sing an odd song about how he could eat oatmeal for breakfast, for lunch and for dinner as well and that, “life would have rhythm, and maybe harmony.” 

But what is a seemingly goofy and cheery song turns into a low pitched, eerie song about routine, with lyrics saying, “Circumstance, the unexpected. How could I have known? Routine, is it human? Molded in my ways, how would I change? Disaster! Routine Less I adapt to chaos faster.” The song then ends on a close up shot of oatmeal as the screen fades to black, revealing him choosing a different box of oatmeal. He then reveals the penultimate item on his list, COFFEE. He went into the coffee section and, right as he told himself that he had the aisle to himself and that, “I better hurry up before somebody-” and is then abruptly interrupted by a shaky looking woman with a quick and high-pitched voice.

She introduced herself as Arlene and proceeded to rapidly shake his hand. She then went on and on about how much she loved coffee and that they had so much coffee in that aisle. Right as she is in the middle of speaking she becomes static, her face droopy. The man looks at her confused, just to realize that she had fallen asleep. He scans a shelf really quickly and then gives her a sip of coffee which, “revives” her in a sense as she continues going on and on about coffee until she lays eyes on a clock and says, “ Wait a minute, is that clock right? Oh- my god, I forgot to pick up my son from daycare.” 

She then said that she needed a refill, and right after that, we got our next song intro, this time introducing the word N E E D on the screen. He then sings a short song asking himself if he really needed to drink coffee, if he was under control and if he could beat the addiction. He then ends the song by saying that though it was the flavor he wanted, “it seems better to check than to reflect.” He then buys a box of Decaf coffee and moves on to his final item on the list, CHEESE. He tells himself that it was just cheese and that it shouldn’t be that hard to choose. Or so he thought, until he got to the cheese aisle which appeared to be bigger than any of the other aisles shown in the store. 

Instead of the usual song introduction, a booming, echoing voice said out loud, “And now, a dark walk through the 5 aisles of grief.” He then proceeds to sing various short verses based on which of the 5, “aisles” of grief he was on. After a minute or so of clever word play and cheese puns, he then closes his eyes and slowly reaches out to a shelf while saying, “I’ll be okay, I’ll look away and let the universe say.” He then opens his eyes and looks at what he had picked up from the shelf, A strange cheese labeled as, “Dairy free maple coconut water cheese.” He then says to himself, “I could have picked something better than that”, and begins to sing a short song with the lyrics, “I could, I trust I would pick something better. My choice, it’s a decision I make to be a good go-getter. Every milk will expire, so toss your oatmeal and eat something new. Coffee moderation, life is messy, and your bread isn’t you.” 

The video then ends with him rushing towards the yogurt sampling stand he was at in the beginning, and telling the man at the stand that he knew what he wanted. He then tasted the yogurt of his choice and instantly loved it.

This is a greatly structured story with charming and endearing songs and animation, but what does this all mean?

All of this starts  with the main character’s indecisiveness shown at the very beginning of the video. He was very clearly overthinking his decision on which sample to choose, and while he made his way through his grocery list, he learned many morals that were simply just covered up by layers of symbolism this whole time. First of all, the milk.

All of the lyrics of the song were funny and all, but these questions were actually meant for you and him. The synonym for expired or expiration in this scenario is death and things ending and not always lasting, hence a line from the final song, “every milk will expire”, symbolizing that everybody dies eventually and everything will come to and end. All of the questions like, “did you ever believe in yourself?” and, “what kind of life did you live through?” is meant as a question for us, the viewers, to reflect on what we have done with our lives and if we will be happy knowing that when we “expire” we have lived a good life.

The bread song was mainly him fantasizing about living an, “artisanal life” as he called it, but the deeper meaning comes in when he says the lines, “is it excess when I talk less? And I let my things talk for me?” This symbolizes if he could practically let people interpret who he is as a person just solely based on his material objects, explaining the following lyric, “What will I say when they go away and I’m on my own again?” What he tries to say with this lyric is what will people think of him, of you, when these objects are not around him to express him. This is later supported by another line in the ending song that says, “Your bread isn’t you”, Your items don’t represent you. This was also further demonstrated by the man buying the artisanal bread to begin with. Not only did he physically look like the bread he was buying, but he also kept telling him about all of the, “mid century” items he would be buying.

The song about mess demonstrates how life is messy, just as stated in lyrics in the last song, and that though mess is destructive it is not irreversible as described in the 3rd song. The song about Oatmeal shows how sometimes routine isn’t always “human”, as they put it in the song, and that it is good to step out of your comfort zone every once in a while. This moral is also further reinforced by a line in the last song, “Toss your oatmeal and eat something new”, Step out of your routine or comfort zone and try doing something out of the ordinary to you.

The need song about coffee helps support the idea that sometimes it’s, “better to check than to reflect”, meaning that you should first take a better look at what you are going to do instead of having to reflect back on what you might regret doing. It also shows that things in excess are bad for you, as stated in the last song, “coffee moderation.”

Lastly, the cheese. This song is by far the one that demonstrates the most. In the song, he says many things that, looking beside the cheese puns, have some deep and important meanings. The most important of the 5 aisles being Bargaining. This passage has lines such as, “I can’t make these decisions on my own. If I act better, can someone else select my cheddar?” All of these lines help support one moral, Decision making. All of the songs in the store were part of his decisions which from the start of the video was shown to be quite hard for him.

The line, “can someone else select my cheddar” is a form of saying can someone else make these decisions for me? The first line of the ending song is after all, “My choice is a decision I make to be a good go-getter” is a way to show his realization that making his own decisions is what makes his life messy, prevents him from having things like coffee in excess, allows him to break through his routine and do something new and showing who he is as a person not through items but through actions.

In all, This is an immensely well written, produced and animated short film that not only shows the charming story of a man’s journey through a grocery store, but also shows large amounts of symbolism with important morals lying beneath the surface of fun animation, characters and lyrics.

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