This week I got to see a big screen presentation of the animated shorts nominated at the Oscars. Along with the five nominated films were four “highly commended” shorts, a welcome addition considering the five nominated shorts don’t even fill an hour of viewing. What I generally love about animated shorts is that they’re effectively silent films. Where live-action shorts generally try to be like small versions of the kinds of movies you might see at the art house, animated shorts tend to be conceived as a way of showing off skill in animation. That makes sense, of course, but the result is usually a total lack of dialogue, focusing on expression through character animation.
Onward, to the reviews!
A Canadian short about the boring routine of young boy on a sunday in a small town. There is probably a little too much melancholy in the film, with sad boredom and some animal deaths. The 2D animation is beautifully styled, with subdued colours. To a certain degree I wish the short was a few minutes longer. The ending lacks the kind of punctuation to really sell the emotional power clearly intended. It leaves you feeling like it was oddly unfinished, lacking an overall point.
A Morning Stroll
One simple story told three times in three different time periods with three different animation styles. A man walks down the street, a chicken turns the corner and walks by him. They look at each other and then the chicken walks up some steps to a door, pecks at it, the door opens and it walks in. In the first setting, 1959, the animation is cel-shaded black-and-white lines. In 2009 we get candy coloured cel-shading, now with a gag about taking a video of the chicken on a cell phone. The big laughs come in the final version, set in 2059, post-zombie apocalypse. It’s silly, but very funny, and the animation is excellent.
Another Canadian short, because few countries pump out as many animated short films as Canada. Wild Life tells the story of a young British man who moves to the Canadian West with designs on being a cowboy. Of course, he can’t let go of his pampered aristocratic lifestyle and this leads to a lot of charm, but also a melancholy undoing. The real highlight here is the animation, which is done with 2D brushed paintings for every frame. The details and quality of the animation is kind of astounding.
The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore
An avid reader gets blown away and killed(?) in a huge storm. In his afterworld he finds a big library of books that can fly. He lives there the rest of his life, taking care of the books, forming a deep bond with them and then moving on when it’s time. The 3D animation is quite good, but the character design is strangely inexpressive. The short tries very hard to elicit emotion, but it’s a little too specific to be moving. Maybe serious book lovers will fall for it, but I wasn’t transported.
The annual Pixar entry! Maybe it’s not fair for Pixar to be playing in this contest. They’re the big guys after all. But you know what, their short films are great, and the focus on allowing directors to do interesting things that will actually get seen by mass audiences is great. La Luna is maybe the best short they’ve ever done. Enrico Casarosa’s tale about a boy, his father and his grandfather taking a boat and anchoring it to the moon is extremely whimsical, but also quite beautiful and moving with its light touch. The animation is classic Pixar. Basically perfect. But as is always the case with these shorts, the expressiveness is just wonderful. It seems silly to say it considering how much I’m already biased toward Pixar, but this really was my favourite of the five nominees.
This one might have been my overall favourite short. It doesn’t have the beauty of La Luna, nor is the animation style too complex or anything, but it’s hilarious! It’s a mock PSA about penguins and holes in the ozone layer. Many animals are die, and I couldn’t stop laughing. That might sound awful, but I promise it’s delightful. And while the animation isn’t too wild it is very funny. The penguins in particular is brilliantly animated. SO FUNNY! You can actually watch the film on YouTube here, though it lacks the hilarious end credits and post-credits gag.
The Hybrid Union
Basically an exercise in 3D mechanical character animation. Three mechanical robots race away from a cloud for some reason. I’ll say that while I think the animation is quite fantastic on a technical level, the design and style just bored me.
Quite a long 3D animated short about a man driving down the Nullarbor, an extremely long and straight road in the Australian Outback. He really wants a cigarette, and when he loses his he tries to get another driver on the road to give him one. They comically race each other down the road, messing with each other. It’s a funny short but with a weirdly off-putting art design.
A fun short about a couple of lizards trying to get food in the Amazon while avoiding predators. It’s fun. Kids will enjoy it as well I’m sure. The CGI animation is wild and cartoony. It’s nothing special, but as a piece of cartoon entertainment it’s very good.