Thursday, February 16, 2012

Oscar-nominated Animated Short Films

The Oscar-nominated short films are playing in select cities around the country. In New York I saw them at the IFC Center in Greenwich Village.

This year Pixar’s almost annual entry in the Academy Awards’ Animated Short contest is a sweet little film called La Luna directed by Enrico Casarosa. It’s a touching little tale about a young boy venturing out to sea on a rowboat with his father and grandfather as they throw anchor and hoist a ladder up to the moon, climbing up with brooms in hand to sweep away the beautiful and twinkly stars that give the moon its glow. The film is bright and gorgeous and embodies nearly everything that Pixar has used to make a name for itself. It is one of the two best entries this year.

From Canada and director Patrick Doyon comes Dimanche/Sunday. It’s animated in fairly simple line drawings, a style that can be marvelous but here I found it lacking. About a day in the life of a boy who goes to church and then negotiates a social function full of grown-ups, it has some elements of surrealism, but overall I found it unmemorable.

Wild Life, also from Canada, is a satirical tale of an English gentleman who makes a go of trying to live in the plains of Canada in the early part of the 20th century. It is directed by Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby, previously nominated in this category 12 years ago. It features testimonials from the man’s neighbors about his struggles to cope with the land and weather and is narrated by the man himself in the form of letters home to his parents covering up the true hardships of his life.

In A Morning Stroll from the UK, Grant Orchard tells a simple little tale, but spins it three different ways – once in 1959, again in 2009, and finally in 2059. It’s about as simple as a story can be: a man walking down the street first bumps into another man, then observes a chicken walking past him, climbing the stoop to an apartment building, knocking and being let in. Each of the three vignettes is told in a different animation style. First are simple line drawings that reminded me of the illustrations of Mr. Moneybags in the Monopoly board game. When the two men bump one another there is a cordial apology before each carries on. In the second, the young man is too attuned to his iPhone to notice anything around him and then proceeds to video the chicken, but first gets distracted by a pop up advertising a new game. In the future-set tale, the man is now a zombie in a ravaged city who sees the chicken as his next victim. It’s clever and chuckle-worthy.

The best of the bunch and likely winner of the Oscar is The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore by William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg. In it a young man is swept away along with his library of books by a fierce storm that sends houses hurtling through the air. Like The Wizard of Oz, from which the film obviously draws lots of inspiration, he lands in a new world of bright colors that outshine his now black and white visage. It features excellent computer animation and an imaginative storyline. I particularly like the Humpty Dumpty character who is a book character animated by the flipping pages on which he resides.

Also featured in the program were four other animated short films, two of which were qualifying entries for the Oscars last year and this year respectively. Skylight is an animated mockumentary about the hole in the ozone layer done in the style of those old films they used to show in schools in my parents’ day. The Hybrid Union is about two odd-looking machines, one that relies on solar power and the other on water, as they form an unlikely union to outrace a third machine. Nullarbor is a funny road movie that takes place on the longest and straightest stretch of desert road in Australia. It is not entirely kid-friendly. Amazonia is a bright neon color spectacle about a baby frog and his dad trying to catch food and avoid becoming snacks to dangerous snakes and alligators.

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