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.
Filed under: Review