I gotta say, this year’s Animated shorts are probably the weakest bunch of nominees in the four years I’ve been attending these IFC Center screenings. That said, they’re not all bad -- and there may even be a gem or two to be found. Let’s take a look....
SUNDAY/DIMANCHE (Canada) -- I think this ten-minute mess by Patrick Doyan is supposed to show a Sunday in the life of a boy from his perspective. As the day goes on, the boy experiences many things: He puts coins on railroad tracks so they get flattened by passing trains. He goes to church. He visits Grandma’s house and must endure a dinner party with nattering adults. He witnesses a dog get hit by a car and devoured by crows. There’s a bear head mounted to Grandma’s wall that appears to still be alive. It is unclear whether some of these things are figments of the boy’s imagination, or if it is simply how he perceives the mundane world around him... or if there is any connection at all. Even more egregious is that the perspective is constantly shifting, which spoils that effect and seems to defeat the purpose. Doesn’t help that the animation style, hand-drawn in drab browns & greys, wears thin quickly.
A MORNING STROLL (UK) -- This short by Grant Orchard is based on a supposedly-true story in which someone spied a chicken walking down a city street and watched as it knocked on a door with its beak and was let inside. The film uses three radically different animation styles to show this event occur in three radically different time periods: There’s old-timey black-and-white in 1959, two-dimensional color in 2009 and crazy whacked-out CGI in 2059. Of course, there’s a message about the state of society (particularly NYC, which is where the short is set; the chicken even displays some New York attitude -- or at least, New York attitude as perceived by someone from England) in each time period, but mostly it seems like the animators just wanted to say, “Hey, look at all the different kinds of animation we can cram into seven minutes!” Amusing but insignificant.
WILD LIFE (Canada) -- I very much enjoyed the impressionistic animation style of this 13-minute western (of sorts) from Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby, but the story wears thin fairly quickly. It’s about a Brit who emigrates to the Canadian wilderness in the early 1900’s. He lives alone on a small ranch in the middle of nowhere, at first overconfident about his future success (note that his adventure is financed by mum & dad), but eventually realizes he’s gotten in over his head, is overcome by loneliness, starts drinking and ultimately meets a tragic end. Through the use of intertitles, his experience is compared to the life cycle of a comet, so while it is a slow-moving, introspective tale, it is not particularly subtle.
THE FANTASTIC FLYING BOOKS OF MR. MORRIS LESSMORE (USA) -- This little ditty is a lovely mix of old silent comedies, THE WIZARD OF OZ, ALICE IN WONDERLAND and PLEASANTVILLE, with added inspiration from post-Katrina New Orleans and a general affection for books. One day, a man (a clear homage to Buster Keaton) is reading on his balcony in the French Quarter when a huge storm hits, literally blowing the letters off the pages, sending him flying through the air and dumping him into a strange wasteland where he finds that he has been rendered black and white. But when he happens upon a house filled with fluttering, personable, piano-playing books (they’re alive, you see), his life is given a new purpose. The 15-minute film combines several animation styles, including one of the most clever uses of a flip-book in recent memory, and is beautiful to look at. While it doesn’t contain much in the way of character development, William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg’s ode to the power of the written word is whimsical, poignant, and important these days -- I’ll take a printed book over an eBook any day!
LA LUNA (USA) -- At this point, saying that the Pixar entry is my favorite makes me feel a bit like the boy who cried wolf. I know, I root for them every year -- but this time, their film really IS the best (actually, it was really the best last year, too, but never mind). This seven-minute short from writer/director Enrico Casaroasa is an absolute joy. It’s about a little boy on a nighttime boat ride with his squabbling father and grandfather. The moon rises, and they ascend a ladder to the lunar surface, where they find millions of shiny gold stars. From there, we learn that the older men are indoctrinating the youngster into the family business of moon-sweeping -- though what exactly that entails, I will not say, because the film’s punchline is both funny and wondrous. With an animation style that invokes a child’s bedtime story book, this is a film that, in true Pixar fashion, works on multiple levels and may be one of their most timeless shorts ever. After the perceived failure of CARS 2 (which failed to earn them an Best Animated Feature nod for the first time ever), it’s a relief to see that they weren’t completely asleep at the wheel last year!
I’M ROOTING FOR: La Luna, by a landslide.
WILL PROBABLY WIN: La Luna (Pixar hasn’t actually won in this category since 2001, so aside from being the best choice, they’re due).
But wait, there’s more! Since the nominated shorts were so... short... we were also treated to FOUR additional, highly commended shorts:
SKYLIGHT (Canada) -- A very funny faux-documentary and cautionary tale by David Baas about the hole in the ozone layer and its effect on the poor little penguins in the Antarctic. Pretty much five minutes of non-stop visual hilarity -- turns out penguins can still be funny after all these years! Would have actually preferred to see this one get a nod over pretty much any of the actual nominees other than LA LUNA or MORRIS LESSMORE.
NULLARBOR (Australia) -- The Nullarbor Plain is apparently the longest stretch of flat, treeless desert in Australia. And there’s a road that goes through it. And this CG short by Alister Lockhart is sort of a Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote adventure pitting a douchebag in a sports car against an old guy in a jalopy. The result is ten moderately entertaining and amusing minutes.
AMAZONIA (USA) -- A cute, five-minute adventure set in the Amazon rainforest, starring a little green tree frog named Bounce who can’t catch a meal to save his life. But he soon meets Biggy, a big blue bullfrog who helps show him the ropes. Featuring super-vibrant colors, hyper-realistic characters & backgrounds and classical score, Sam Chen’s film is fast-paced & fun, with a chuckle-inducing ending.
HYBRID UNION (USA/Ukraine) -- A four-minute tortoise vs. hare story from Serguei Kouchnerov, featuring two entities known as Plus and Minus who must join forces and become the Hybrid Union in order to renew their energy supply and defeat a new rival in a race across a futuristic Cyberdesert. There’s a message in there about energy efficiency and such, but I mostly like the nifty-looking characters, based on the filmmaker’s own oil paintings.
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