Saturday, February 16, 2013

Movie Commentary: 2013 Oscar Nominated Short Films – Animated

At a glance- 8 animated films from 2 to 30 minutes; covering drama, comedy, romance, children's stories and just plain visual fun

What is it? It's February, and that means it's Oscar time. A lot of the nominated films have returned to the box office to drum up some more support, and we also have two films that showcase the Oscar-nominated shorts, one for Live Action and the other covering Animated. Being me, I went to see the animated shorts.

     Now, I have to confess that I really like animated works. From the first Bugs Bunny cartoon as a child to the fantastic work done recently by Pixar, and surrounded by a cloud of Japanese Anime over the years. Is this love because I'm such a kid at heart (which sounds kinder than immature)? Actually, no. I have tried over the years to find a way to explain the appeal of animation over live action, and at last I think I've found it. My ex-girlfriend is a huge Opera Lover (and note the capitols as I describe her)(she also sings opera like an angel), and so of course I listened to some opera myself. I loved it. It was opera that actually explained animation to me. See, in opera I don't know the language (no left-brain) – so I am listening to the music and the tone of the singing; it is a very right-brained activity. Animation is the same way. An animated character can convey far, far more emotion then any but the most skilled human actor – because the animated character is not constrained by reality. Eyes are almost always exaggerated, expressions can literally become larger than the character's head, and the background changes at a whim. All of this brings a character's inner emotions to life, it is the right-brained way of telling, and viewing, a story.
     Shorts add an extra dimension to the animation. A short film has no room to waste, every frame has to build the story and advance the emotions that are trying to be conveyed. It is a hard, fast punch to the gut (when done right, a forgettable commercial when done wrong).

     If I remember correctly (which happens from time to time) last year the shorts were all just presented one after the other. This year, there are two hosts who briefly speak in-between each short film. William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg are directors of last year's Oscar-winning "The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore," and it was a great short. While some may wonder why you would need hosts for a 90 minute total collection of mostly 5 minute films, they actually were a very good idea. They provide a break, a way to let go of the last short and get ready for the one to come. Like having a glass of water to clear the palate in-between courses of a meal. And since the first 7 shorts have no dialogue, they also provide some human voices.

     Preamble aside, let's get to the shorts themselves. First, we have the nominees (in the order they appear in the film):

"Maggie Simpson in 'The Longest Daycare' "
Little baby Maggie has stepped out of The Simpsons and into her own short. This is a very cute story. Poor Maggie is put in a machine that deems her to be “normal intelligence” and she is dumped in a corner with the kids who are “nothing special.” She finds a caterpillar, which another child wants to smash, and she struggles to rescue it from the evil hammer of her nemesis.

"Fresh Guacamole"
At only 2 minutes this is the shortest of all the films. It is simply making fresh guacamole, as the title says, but with some odd ingredients. Like a hand grenade, baseball, dice and more. Claymation and brillant.

"Adam and Dog"
A dog is man's best friend, right? This short seeks to explain that. We see dog, roaming by himself, who meets Adam in the Garden of Eden. They form a bond, until Eve enters the picture. But even when the two first humans are cast out of the garden, dog follows loyally. This is a nice short, but I think a lot of it's impact comes from weather or not you like dogs. Cat lovers may not be so impressed.

"Head Over Heels"
A somewhat odd love story about a husband who lives on the floor and wife who lives on the ceiling. Something has broken them up, in more than just the spacial sense, and so we follow as they try to deal with their relationship. Good, very good story and well done. The only odd thing was that just a few days before seeing this I watched a preview for “Upside Down” which is an upcoming feature live action film about a boy and girl who live on worlds that mirror each other. Not sure if the short or people who worked on it had anything to do with the movie coming out next month.

I had seen this one, so have you if you watched Disney's “Wreck-It Ralph” last year. This is a very cute boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-tries-to-get-girl's-attention-with-paper-airplanes story. You know, the classic romance.

     Then we have some shorts that are highly commended:

Abiogenesis” – is a gorgeous special-effects short. It shows a machine that lands on a barren planet and fills it with life. Computer animated, and with such a level of detail it must have taken a heck of a lot of work to render.

Dripped” – a tribute to Jackson Pollock, this is the rather unusual story of an art thief. Not merely stealing paintings, he actually eats them – until finally exploding in a burst of colors. This is an old-style computer animation, everything is pixelated, which surprisingly has a lot of charm. I liked the story, the artist so full of art that he can't paint something, he has to just release the paints in a frenzy. I am not much of an art guy, so I had to look up Mr. Pollock on Wikipedia the next day, but I think this is a fitting tribute to his work.

The Gruffalo's Child” – at almost 30 minutes this is the longest, and out of the 8 shorts the only one with dialogue. An adaptation of a 2004 children's book of the same name (itself a sequel to the 1999 book, “The Gruffalo” and using the same characters) with an all-star voice cast and beautiful animation. This is a rhyming-couplet children's poem brought to life; and a very cute story of a curious child and clever mouse.

My recommendation- go see it if you want to just relax and enjoy a visual feast

P.S.- in case you were wondering, my vote is for "Fresh Guacamole" to win. It is a great example of the animated and short styles. It is like watching a wonderful magic trick. All of them are good, but I liked that one best.

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