I’m going to come up a little short (eh? eh?) for this part of the checklist. In the interest of my time, energy and sanity, I’m only going over 4 of the 5 animated short nominees. It’s the best I can do for now. I won’t be able to see the fifth short, Let’s Pollute, until it’s on iTunes Feb. 22nd. I would apologize for the oversight, but this is my crazy obsession and I’ll satisfy it however I see fit (read: however I can). This reminds me, anyone with screeners of the foreign films can be my new best friend. I am not joking. On to the shorts!
The Gruffalo – Nominated for Best Animated Short
At 25 minutes, it is the longest of the shorts, and needlessly so. The Gruffalo is an adaptation of the popular children’s book, and the film is very much in the tradition of a bedtime story, not just in tone, but in structure. A mother squirrel relays the story of a cunning mouse braving the dangers of the woods to her two children. The mouse encounters three predators, a fox, an owl, and a snake, outwitting each by making up a tale about a vicious creature known as The Gruffalo.
The animation is very appealing. It’s CG made to look like claymation, with some lovely set design. The small story also boasts a robust voice cast: Helena Bonham Carter, John Hurt, Tom Wilkinson, Robbie Coltrane. The book as well as the film owes a lot to Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, but the debt isn’t distracting. The film’s biggest weakness is its length. A bedtime story shouldn’t ramble so much. The story is brought to charming life, but eventually overstays its welcome.
Day and Night – Nominated for Best Animated Short
The most well-known out of this bunch is also the most ambitious. Anyone who saw Toy Story 3 in theaters (which is probably everyone, except Adam) was treated to this hit and miss short. The idea is simple, one character represents the Day and another the Night. When Day and Night meet they quarrel over their differences but eventually come to a mutual understanding.
The execution is the unique aspect of this film. Day and Night’s silhouettes are hand drawn, while everything inside their outlines is CG. It’s an interesting experiment that yields some fun results. The movie is clever, but sometimes a little too clever. There aren’t too many places for the story to go other than wringing out some laughs out of the concept and the implicit differences. I didn’t care much for the on the nose message of the finale, but like I said, there wasn’t much else they could have done. Despite some hiccups, the outcome remains short and sweet.
Madagascar, A Journey Diary – Nominated for Best Animated Short
The third short on the list doesn’t have a plot and is much more experimental than its peers. I applaud the ingenuity but found it rather aimless and tiresome. Bastien Dubois has essentially animated his diary from his trip to the red island. Some of the film literally has pages being turned and there are scribbled notes, postage markings, and other journalistic touches throughout. The animation varies, incorporating watercolors, 3D, sketches, and more. It’s a little schizophrenic, the way it changes from shot to shot, but completely inline with the snapshot travelogue Dubois is trying to evoke.
Although the animation is striking, and the lack of structure a bit refreshing, I found the overall effect middling. I know I should be more impressed, but I’m not the biggest fan of work with so little focus. It is successful at giving a peek inside a foreign culture. However, I had no connection to the place or the film. I’m not opposed to movies that allow some of the flavor to wash over me, and there is always some room for free-flowing montage, I just wish this movie had something stronger framing it.
The Lost Thing – Nominated for Best Animated Short
Obviously inspired by Terry Gilliam and other similar artists, The Lost Thing is a slow starter that eventually builds to an overtly sentimental–but satisfying–conclusion. This is another picture book adaptation, and the story takes place in an Orwellian world rife with uniformity. The narrator, a bland collector, tells of the day he came across the lost thing at the beach. The thing itself is like an octopus-crab stuffed into a giant mechanical cookie jar. It’s an oddity, but the first part of this story feels random for the sake of uniqueness.
The narrator befriends the strange creature and searches for a place the thing can belong. This is a little drawn out, but like every other nominee, the film does not lack for interesting visuals. The payoff is a bit schmaltzy, but it works. Sometimes obvious messages are still good messages. The bizarreness of the beginning of the film actually benefits the ending, because I didn’t realize the charmed ending was where we were heading. Not perfect, but I can’t fault a short film for a tidy payoff.
I found this year’s animated shorts a bit underwhelming, the fifth one sight unseen. There wasn’t one that grabbed me, moved me, or made me laugh uncontrollably. If I had to choose the best, I guess I’d go with Day & Night. Its polish and short runtime win out over the shortcomings of its fellow nominees.
Keep checking back as I keep chugging forward. I don’t think I’ll be able to check off every nominee but you can read as I drive myself mad in my attempt.