Sunday, March 3, 2013

The 2013 Oscar-Nominated Animated Short Films

The 2013 Oscar-Nominated Animated Short Films

The Animated candidates for short film were a strange bunch. I don't know if this is normal or not, but many of the films were extremely short, two of them at less than five minutes' runtime and one at less than two. I grant, this is the 'short' film category, and further grant that animation is hard to produce, but the program I was at had to append several 'honorable mentions', including a half-hour long British children's tale, in order to bring the whole thing up to an acceptable feature length. Regardless, without further ado...

The Longest Daycare: Yes, the Simpsons made an animated short film, and yes, it got nominated for an academy award. Go figure. This silent Simpsons sequence consists of Maggie being dropped off at her day care and suffering through the absurdities of staff and the ill-will of her nemesis, Baby Gerald. I'm aware that conventional wisdom has it that the Simpsons have been a terrible show since 1996, but Hipster-cred aside, I thought the gags worked well, like an accelerated version of vintage Simpsons (the 'Ayn Rand School for Tots' was a nice touch). It's light, it's inconsequential, it's short and it's reasonably funny. What more can one really ask for?

Fresh Guacamole: Um... what? This two-minute stop-motion short consists entirely of an unseen person making guacamole out of unconventional objects such as hand grenades, dice, poker chips, and baseballs. Clever? I suppose, but it's over in the blink of an eye, and plays more like the sort of gag a longer (though still short) film would use to establish the strange world or quirky behavior of a central character. I don't hate it, but how the hell did something this limited wind up getting a nomination?

Head over Heels: A metaphorical story about an older couple who now live in different worlds (or more specifically, by different sets of physical laws), this film managed to be fairly heartwarming despite its absurd premise and lack of dialogue. The stop motion here is extensive and expressive, and the direction gets the point of the film across easily without having to burden us with oversymbolism. The best animated films let us explore human themes through stylized methods, and that's precisely what this movie does.

Paperman: Disney had to have a contribution in the nominees of course, and it wasn't hard to spot. Paperman is the story of a man who meets a girl in a train station and tries, for complex reasons, to find her again by means of paper airplanes with a life of their own. Hand-drawn in 2D (not a common thing anymore), Paperman is wonderfully animated, with characters that are magnificently expressive, down to subtle, complicated emotional representations. The story is inventive enough, if not groundbreaking, though told almost entirely without sound, speech, or even color. It may lack some of the emotional strength of others on the list, but it serves to remind just how good professional animation can be, even when restricting itself to the practices of the past.

And the award for Best Animated Short Film goes to...

Adam and Dog: I defy anyone who has ever owned a dog to watch this film with dry eyes. A lush, gorgeously-animated film done in the Japanese style (no, I don't mean Anime), Adam and Dog is exactly what it says on the tin, a story about the first man meeting the first dog, and that which befalls them thereafter. Entirely silent (as were all the animated shorts, come to think of it), the film tells its story entirely through the skillfully drawn animation of a dog whose movements I would have thought rotoscoped were it not for the art style. Yet the strength of the film is not in its animation, but in its story, a simple tale of the ancient bond between humans and dogs, one which can transcend anything in the world, and maybe even things beyond.

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