It turned out last year that my least favorite of the animated short Oscar nominees won the prize so I’m hesitant this year to weigh in with predictions. I think Pixar’s clever and charming Day & Night is probably a lock in this category, but don’t bet the farm on my say so.

Overall this is a solid bunch. There is nothing as fantastic as 2009 winner La Maison en Petits Cubes, but with one exception these are all pretty terrific.

Day & Night (**** 1/2). The best part of Toy Story 3 last summer was this short written and directed by Teddy Newton. Pixar always delivers the goods with their short films, but they picked their game up a notch with this one. Day and Night personified (in a very clever bit of visualization) literally meet one another. What starts as suspicion soon turns to animosity, but eventually these two literal opposites learn that each has something unique to offer and appreciate and they become friends. Dialog free, Day & Night conveys its story purely through music and sound effects. Despite not being officially submitted by Pixar, it recently won the Annie for best short and it’s my favorite of the bunch as well as my pick for Oscar. (USA – 6 minutes)

Madagascar, A Journey Diary (****). Literally an animated sketch book of painter Bastien Dubois’ nearly year-long visit to Madagascar, Madagascar, A Journey Diary (Madagascar, Carnet de Voyage) springs to life in eclectic watercolor renderings that evoke a number of different styles including old European travel advertisements. Like the journey itself, Madagascar is ever-changing, hard to encapsulate and completely enthralling. It’s so subtle I didn’t think much of it at first, but it grew on me and I watched it again. (France – 11 minutes)

The Gruffalo (****). This decidedly English-flavored number is based on the children’s book by Julia Donaldson and it boasts an excellent voice cast including Helena Bonham Carter, John Hurt, Tom Wilkinson and Robbie Coltrane. It tells the story of a brash mouse who wards off the other creatures who would eat him by inventing a friend/monster called The Gruffalo. What’s scarier than this made up beast? The real thing. Quiet and subtle in the way the best children’s stories are, The Gruffalo is nicely stylized using computer animation that looks a bit like 3D stop motion. A nicely jaunty score compliments the excellent voice acting. Mostly light and breezy, there’s also a dark sense of impending danger throughout the story and the feeling that something terrible and unexpected waits just around the corner. (UK/Germany – 27 minutes)

The Lost Thing (***). A subtle sense of melancholy somewhat lifts this quietly odd Australian tale of a young man who befriends a strange creature while visiting the beach only to find he doesn’t quite know what to do with it. There’s something appealing about this creature that looks a little like an octopus living inside of a giant tea pot. The best part is the joy it conveys when it finds someone to play with. Overall though there’s the somewhat depressing feeling that the world has neither the time nor the patience for things that can’t be easily explained. Interestingly quirky but kind of a downer. (Australia/UK – 15 minutes)

Let’s Pollute (**). The only clunker in an otherwise lovely bunch (which with my track record means it will join last year’s Logorama in winning the Oscar), Let’s Pollute is about as subtle as its title. Designed as one of those 1960s animated film reels aimed at getting kids to be better citizens, it ironically takes the opposite tack extolling the virtues of polluting as much as possible. Subtle! Luckily, it’s short. (USA – 6 minutes)

In addition to the 5 above nominees, the animated shorts program will include two bonus shorts, The Cow Who Wanted to be a Hamburger which is fairly self explanatory and one of the darkest and oddest Bill Plympton toons I’ve ever seen and the German tale Urs which tells the story of a man trying to make a nicer life for his elderly mother. It has kind of an unappealing Russian peasant flavor to it.

The 2011 Oscar Nominated Shorts (and two bonus animated shorts) will be screening in separate programs – animated, live action and (for the first time) documentary – beginning February 11. Check out Shorts HD for screening info.

11 Responses to “Oscar Nominated Animated Shorts (2011)”

  1. Can’t you leave Toy Story 3 alone, Craig? ;)

    On a more serious note, I wonder if The Gruffalo has a better shot, due to it being populated with well-known British actors. I’ve only seen Day and Night (like pretty much everyone, I’m sure), but Pixar shorts aren’t always a guarantee to win the category. 2008’s Presto didn’t win (and was arguably as good as Day and Night, if not better).

    Thanks for the write-up; these came out in one small theater 40 miles away from me today and I doubt I’ll get a chance to see them before the Oscars. Nice to see a bit of detail about the contenders.

  2. From the noms, I’m dying to catch Madagascar and Gruffalo.

    Though, there was one of the shortlisted shorts, The Silence Beneath the Bark seemed like a good one, and Michel Gagné’s Sensology was a good one (the YouTube link has already been set to private =( ).

  3. If last year’s winner — the dazzling Logorama — is any indication, I’m thinking that Madagascar has a chance of taking this. The film is not only sensual and visceral but also has a unique cinematic effect where the camera is an active observer in a way I don’t recall seeing in animated films. It establishes setting and mood very well, helped along by good editing. And it doesn’t require too much from the viewer by keeping it simple.

    On the other hand, the longer Gruffalo is more ambitious and has a much more involving story. Production values and casting could help this one take it.

    I wasn’t as crazy about Day and Night as you were, Craig. Although it was well done, its message — though admirable — seems a little too obvious (though that may indeed mirror the Academy’s taste).

    The Lost Thing and Let’s Pollute are good also-rans.

  4. I’m liking Madagascar more and more as I think about it.

    Lol Josh, that wasn’t a slap on TS3. I just really liked the short. Better than the one before Up and even better than Presto.

  5. I’m with Craig on Day and Night / Toy Story 3. One of the best shorts Pixar’s ever made, which is no faint praise. TS3 itself is a good film, but it felt a little like they were coasting a bit after their latest run of near-masterpieces (Ratatouille, Wall-E and, to a lesser extent, Up) that didn’t revisit past achievements.

  6. However, wasn’t Logorama’s success a bit not only because of its unique style, but also the mad action sequences?

    Was able to watch Madagascar last night, and though the style is quite superb, it lacked a little of the mass quality that Logorama had.

    I think Day & Night has a good chance of winning. It’s got style and innovative 3D concept, but it also appeals to regular people easily. Comparing it to the win of Petits Cubes in 2008 (2009?) which was stylish to appeal to those interested, but also had a simple easy to love story that drew the rest of the voters in.

  7. Amy, I agree that Logorama leaves us with a stronger impact than does Madagascar, which ultimately seems more like an audition reel. Oscarwise, my guess is that it’s between Gruffalo (with a slight edge because of its more fully developed story line and star power) and Day & Night.

  8. Can anyone tell me if any of the films in this program, including the bonus shorts, are inappropriate for a child of 10?

  9. I hated Logorama. It was shrill, crass, ugly and one-joke satire. Michelin Man swears! Mr. Clean is a gay stereotype! hahah!

    Madagascar on the other hand was sublime.

    Brian, unlike Logorama last year, I don’t think there’s anything inappropriate for a 10-year-old in these.

  10. Thank you!

  11. The Gruffalo and Day and Night will probably be most appealing to kids. The other stuff is more mature, but not in a way that’s inappropriate for kids.

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