Quality-wise, this year’s animated short nominees are very solid and likeable at worst... and a slice of pure, transcendent joy at best. There’s a Biblical tale, a wacky bit of food porn, a couple of love stories and the freakin’ Simpsons! Also, interestingly, none of them have any spoken dialogue. That’s kind of cool. And the nominees are....
MAGGIE SIMPSON IN “THE LONGEST DAYCARE” (USA) -- Seriously, how surreal is it to see The Simpsons nominated for an Oscar? It’s about time! I missed this short when it debuted before the latest ICE AGE but clearly, good things come to those who wait; while I maintain that The Simpsons is still one of the most consistently funny shows on TV, this short is one of the best things to involve the family in some time. The story is simple: Maggie goes to daycare where she feuds with Baby Gerald, her one-eyebrowed nemesis, and tries to protect a caterpillar as it transforms into a butterfly. The film moves at a lightning pace and sight gags galore are crammed into its five minutes and it’s hilarious -- in other words, classic Simpsons. No chance it will win (though imagine if it did?), but here’s hoping its success leads to lots more Simpsons shorts from now on!
ADAM AND DOG (USA) -- I enjoyed this retelling of the Book of Genesis from the perspective of the first Dog, how he met Adam and became the first Man’s Best Friend. Director Minkyu Lee’s film is beautifully hand-drawn, with a dreamy, nature-intensive visual style that actually invokes such Disney classics as BAMBI (indeed, Lee is a former Mouse House employee) and is filled with both subtle humor and poignancy. (Also, lots of full-frontal cartoon male nudity, if that floats your boat.) While meant to be a deliberately-paced, meditative sort of film, at 16 minutes it feels a bit overlong. But if the Academy decides to give this award to non-mainstream fare -- as they are wont to do in this category -- it probably has the best shot.
FRESH GUACAMOLE (USA) -- Directed by Adam Pesapane (also known as PES), this wacky little ditty is noteworthy for being the shortest film ever to receive an Oscar nomination: 1 minute and 45 seconds! Using clever stop-motion animation, it shows you how to make guacamole using various inanimate objects, including a grenade, a baseball, dice, a pincushion and the houses from Monopoly. Each sight gag is funnier than the one before it and laughs are plentiful. At first I tried to figure out if there was any hidden meaning here -- perhaps the objects represent some kind of deeper sociopolitical message? But no... I think it can only be taken at face value... in which case, it is simply a fun & delicious way to spend a couple of minutes.
HEAD OVER HEELS (UK) -- This 10-minute claymation tale from first-time director Timothy Reckart tells the story of a couple who have grown so far apart that they literally live on different planes of existence: He lives on the floor, she lives on the ceiling, and their house floats aimlessly through the sky. They passive-aggressively argue about whether their wedding photo should be turned up or down -- but after so many years together, even as they share appliances and do chores and go about their days, their actions are still instinctively in sync. Will they ever be able to rekindle their romance and rediscover true equilibrium? Animation is a bit crude (and clearly influenced by Pixar’s UP) but it’s a funny and touching love story and an all-around strong nominee.
PAPERMAN (USA) -- I first saw Disney’s brilliant tale of the power of “the thunderbolt” before WRECK-IT RALPH, and while I liked the feature very much, it was the short that really stuck with me. Using a new-fangled blend of 3D and 2D animation in lovely black & white, director John Kahrs introduces us to a man who has a memorable encounter with a pretty woman on a train platform... only to have her rush off before anything can come of it. Convinced that the moment has been lost forever, he trudges off to work... but to his surprise, he spots her in a window in the office building next to his. So he decides to do what any quick-thinking, mid-20th century New York lonelyheart would do to try and catch her attention: He takes a stack of paperwork on his desk, makes a bunch of paper airplanes and throws them in her direction. I will not reveal what the fates have in store -- but if you’ve ever had a “missed connection” in NYC (and let’s face it, we all have, whether it’s fleeting eye contact on the subway or a passing smile in the grocery store), this simple, sweet story strikes a major chord.
I’M ROOTING FOR: Paperman, unquestionably the best of the bunch and a reminder that Disney (not Pixar, mind you) can still work some real magic.
WILL PROBABLY WIN: Paperman. But if anti-Disney bias rears its ugly head, I’d expect Adam & Dog to take it.
But wait, there’s more! We were also treated to three “highly commended” films to pad the run-time of the program and give us a bit more bang for our buck....
ABIOGENESIS (New Zealand) -- Vibrant CGI and cool visuals dominate this five-minute sci-fi extravaganza in which a machine lands on a lifeless planet and, well, brings it to life. That’s pretty much it. I’m sure there’s some kind of environmental message in there, too, but frankly, I was still fawning over PAPERMAN to much to pay attention... sorry, Kiwis!
DRIPPED (France) -- Cool-looking nine-minute ditty about an art thief who steals paintings, eats them and adopts each artistic style as a kind of superpower. Set mainly in a stylized 1950s NYC and featuring a fast-paced jazz score, this is a twisty-turny adventure and a visual treat if you have even the slightest inkling about famous artists (which is about all I have). But the real twist is that the film actually serves as a tribute to one artist in particular -- to say who would be a spoiler, so I’ll leave it at that!
THE GRUFFALO’S CHILD (UK) -- A couple of years ago, THE GRUFFALO was nominated for Best Animated Short and it bored the heck out of me, despite some cutesy animation and an all-star voice cast. I’m still unfamiliar with the Gruffalo, the kids’ book... and I’m even less familiar with the apparent sequel. Now the Gruffalo has a child, and one snowy night, the child goes off in search of the Big Bad Mouse, and hijinks ensue. At an obscene 27 minutes, it bored the heck out of me again. Please tell me this isn’t a trilogy....