Oscar-Nominated Animated Shorts (NR)

If you attend both programs of Oscar-nominated shorts, you will get a good balance of the sober and the silly.

 

I hate the stereotype that animation is for funny stories while the serious stuff should be reserved for live action, but apparently the voters of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences embrace it. Or that would be my conclusion after viewing this year’s Oscar-nominated short films in the live action and animated categories. Of course it could be that the best animated shorts submitted this year were light-hearted while the best live-action shorts were serious-minded, or the filmmakers could be self-selecting works along those lines because they think it will improve their chances of winning (if you’ve been following the nominations and winners for Best Foreign Language Film lately, then you will know exactly what I mean).

But enough speculation. If you attend both programs of Oscar-nominated shorts you will get a good balance of the sober and the silly, and maybe that’s a fair way to even it out. Among the animated nominees, my vote (if I had one) would go to The Lady and the Reaper but my bet is that Nick Park will have to find space in his trophy cabinet for yet another golden statuette.

Granny O’Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty (6 min.) is a darkly humorous take on a self-involved grandma whose version of a bedtime story branches far from the orthodox, to the increasing terror of her cute little granddaughter (who has ringlet curls just like writer Kathleen O’Rourke—coincidence, or is this thinly veiled autobiography?). The animation is assured and effective (the frame story is in 3D animation, the fairy tale in 2D which looks like paper cutouts), and you can’t deny that walkers are funny (just ask Nathan Lane!).

Imagine if Ronald McDonald was a mad criminal who took Bob’s Big Boy hostage and was chased by Michelin Men cops and the hostage was saved by the Esso Girl. That’s what happens in Logorama (16 min.), a “police thriller” which takes place in a world where absolutely everything is obtrusively logoed. There’s a little Roland Emmerich built in as well: An earthquake reveals the very ground we walk on is branded by North Face. It’s a clever idea and moves fast enough to keep the laughs coming, although there’s only so far you can take a one-note concept.

The Lady and the Reper (8 min.) is my favorite but given the squeamishness most Americans display toward death, and the rather advanced age of many Academy voters, I’m not placing much hope on its chances. It’s a simple idea: An elderly lady mourning her departed husband is ready to join him in the next world but an egomaniac physician has other plans. When the physician decides to duke it out with the Grim Reaper, guess who’s the battleground? The music by Sergio de la Puente is an integral part of the story and the tone is cued by two versions of We’ll Meet Again.

Wallace and Gromit are back in finest stop-motion form in A Matter of Loaf and Death (30 min.). It’s a reliable execution of what has become a standard formula: Gromit is the brains of the household, and there’s lots of clever and improbable machinery and send-ups of classic films—it’s just been done before. The story this time is that Wallace and Gromit open a bakery, and shortly thereafter embark on romances: Wallace with Piella Bakewell, Gromit with Piella’s poodle (see, even the names are funny!). Then Gromit discovers that local bakers have been going to meet their maker at a rather alarming pace, and guess who’s the likely culprit? Nick Parker and co-writer Bob Baker know how to tell a story, and this is a reliable brand; my guess is that Oscar will prefer a known quantity over innovation.

French Roast (8 min.) is set in a French café and is a little short on story. The main action is that a businessman discovers his wallet is missing when it’s time to pay the check, and stalls by ordering more and more coffee. Meanwhile, an obnoxious beggar plies his trade. It’s stylish and clever, and but maybe I’m lacking the Gallic gene because I didn’t find it all that interesting. Two points are worth noting however: There’s almost no dialogue, and the story is presented as if filmed by a fixed camera, sort of like a stage play.

The program at the Tivoli will be rounded out with several other animated shorts. Partly Cloudy (6 min.) from Pixar attempts to answer the question of where storks get the babies they deliver. The Kinematograph (12 min.) by Polish director Tomek Baginski (nominated for an Oscar in 2003 for the animated short Katedra) is an adaptation of a comic of the same name by Mateusz Skutnik about an inventor who gets a little too caught up in his work. Runaway (9 min.) from the Canadian director Cordell Barker (whose The Cat Came Back won a Genie in 1989) is a satire on modern economics using the device of a class-segregated railway train whose passengers are oblivious to the disaster awaiting just around the bend. | Sarah Boslaugh

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