Oscar Nominated Animated Shorts (Various, NR)

The difference is that instead of telling you how to survive a nuclear war (duck and cover!) or avoid predatory homosexuals (beware of older man lurking about the changing rooms at the beach), it dispenses advice about how to be a better polluter.

Retro is the theme for this year’s Oscar-nominated animated short films, and whether that’s a reflection of where the art is headed or more simply of the taste of the Viewing and Nominating Committees (if you really want to know how it works, the official rules are here: http://www.oscars.org/awards/academyawards/rules/84/rule19.html) we’ll never know. Be that as it may, the five nominees for this year’s Oscars provide a good variety in their approach to the art and certainly are worth a look if you have any interest in animation or cinematic expression in general.
Day & Night (dir. Teddy Newton; 6 min.) from Pixar may already be familiar because it was screened along with Toy Story 3 in theatres. It’s a clever little film in which Night and Day are personified as chubby creatures of the type you might get if you crossed Casper the Friendly Ghost with one of the dwarves from the Disney’s Snow White. They take an immediate disliking to each other, get into a competition over who is cooler (I have stars! Well, I have rainbows! But I have fireworks! Big deal: I have air shows!), before learning to appreciate each other’s differences and becoming the best of pals. It’s the kind of story that would work perfectly in a vintage Disney cartoon, which is not entirely inappropriate since the Disney Company has owned Pixar since 2006. The visuals are striking: Night and Day are seen against a black screen and their bodies are transparent, forming a moving window through which we see either a daytime or nighttime scene. The sound is also well done and comfortingly old-fashioned with an excerpt from Rossini’s William Tell Overture and some big band swing tunes providing most of the score.
Let’s Pollute (dir. Geefwee Boedoe; 6 min.) is a take-off on the kind of educational films so beloved of classroom teachers in the 1950s and 1960s. The difference is that instead of telling you how to survive a nuclear war (duck and cover!) or avoid predatory homosexuals (beware of older man lurking about the changing rooms at the beach) it dispenses advice about how to be a better polluter. The art is 2-D, using exaggeratedly cute South Park-style cutouts against a patchwork background, and the pacing is absolutely perfect with not a second wasted or a single image left to linger too long on screen. The script read by Jim Thornton (the voice of co-commentator Johnny Gomez on Celebrity Deathmatch) perfectly captures the tone of its models with advice and assurances on the order of “Today, polluting is better and more convenient than ever” “To be your best will require tremendous un-discipline” and “Corporations are devoted to all your polluting needs.” It’s brilliant, and if I were handing out the awards Let’s Pollute would be the winner.
Madagascar, Carnet de Voyage (dir. Bastien Dubois, 11 min.) presents the journey of a European traveler through Madagascar and recalls the school textbooks of my youth crossed with more modern instructional videos, both of which intend to give you a cultural experience along with your language instruction. The story is a bit scattered for my taste but what’s really interesting in this short is how many styles of art and animation are used, or appear to be used (it could all be computer-generated for all I know). I counted rotoscoping, stop-motion, ink drawings, chalk, collage, watercolors and squiggle-vision in just the opening minutes. The music is also great (and as varied as the art) and as there’s very little dialogue the storytelling is largely carried by the visuals plus sound.
The Gruffalo (dir Jakob Schuh, Max Lange; 30 min.), uses 3-D animation against multiplane, almost photo-realistic background to tell the story of a clever little mouse who has to use his wits to survive against potentially-deadly enemies including a fox, an owl, a snake and the fearsome creature named in the title. It’s based on the popular children’s book of the same name by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler (voted the #2 bedtime story in a 2009 British poll) and features celebrity voices including Helena Bonham Carter, Robbie Coltrane, Tom Wilkinson and John Hurt. The phrase “fun for the whole family” is an apt description of this charming piece, which was broadcast on the BBC on Christmas Day, 2009.
The Lost Thing (dir. Andrew Ruhemann, Shaun Tan; 15 min.) is a bit more out there although it’s also based on a children’s book, in this case one written by co-director Shaun Tan. A loner guy finds a strange creature on the beach (it’s sort of like a combination crab and octopus inside a steam boiler) and tries to figure out what it is and where it belongs. No one else seems to be interested (it’s a conformist, bureaucratic world out there!) but the young man and his creature form a bond. The animation is 3D, similar to the Aardman style but more pleasing to the eye, and while this is an OK piece of work neither the story nor the art have the pop of the other nominees. | Sarah Boslaugh





























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