Every year, we’re lucky enough to get tons of quality animated feature films. It seems to be a yearly tradition to see which of the major studios can outtrump the others: Dreamworks, Disney, and Pixar, usually with an occasional foreign dark horse thrown in for good measure. Why we can afford to have ten best pictures — one of which is an animated film — and only three best animated feature nominees is beyond me, when visual effects have reached such a boon.
The Oscar nominated animated shorts seemed for focus more on the artistry rather than the story — unlike last year’s remarkable set of five which was crowned with the spectacular Logorama, which I actually watched again just because I loved it so much.
Of the five nominated films, two have basically no dialogue or narrative, two are based on children’s books and are essentially read as such, and the last is a mocking PSA that reminded me of the old Ren and Stimpy cartoons. Two more films were honorably mentioned — The Plymptoon The Cow Who Wanted to Be A Hamburger and URS — which both were also very stylistic and featured no dialogue.
Day & Night
This is the one that everyone saw, the annual pre-Pixar short. Director Teddy Newton, a Pixar staffer who usually voices a few auxiliary characters in their projects, does a nice job. It’s cute — but it’s hardly as good as some of their previous efforts. It’s a clever concept, and visually arresting, but there’s not really any substance except the theme of this year’s Oscar nominated animated shorts — we’re all alike despite our difference rainbow star one to grow on. A little Harveytoon blob that represents Day stumbles upon a Harveytoon ghost blob that represents Night. They fight, they mock, they love. The Wayne Dyer speech seemed a bit strange to me. Of all the folks you could choose, you go with bleach-rinsed milquetoast Dr. Phil?
From the children’s book by Julia Donaldson, this was a cute little one of the woodland creature parables with some interesting character design. The voiceover work featured the cavalcade of British and pseudo-British who you’d expect: Helena Bonham Carter, John Hurt, Tom Wilkinson, Robbie Coltrane, etc. The only one they missed was Alan Rickman. A mother squirrel tells her squirrelly kidlings about a mouse who adventures to get himself food. Three predators prey on him, and he convinces them that he’s meeting the most monstrous creature — The Gruffalo — a snipe ala Where The Wild Things Are that he cleverly invents. And then…he comes across the real Gruffalo. It’s very Aesop, and very cute, and directors Max Lang and Jakob Schuh do a fine job.
Geofwee Boedoe — yep, that’s actually his name — skirts his Disney pedigree to create this twisted mock 50’s style public service announcement. Akin to the South Park episode where people are encouraged to duck and cover when a volcano erupts, this one suggests, tongue-in-cheek, that folks do their part to pollute more. The scribbly style is very reminiscent of Kricfalusi’s messed up kiddie-commercials that played between Ren and Stimpy. Even for such a short feature, and even with cleverness and an occasional chuckle, the joke gets stale.
The Lost Thing
From Australia comes this odd little project from Shaun Tan, based on his children’s book. Set in some sort of Orwellian future, which is never addressed, this one tells of a boy who discovers a strange creature on the beach — a sort of steampunk cephalopod. He takes the creature home and tries to take care of it and return it safely, so it sort of mirrors some of the themes of Let’s Pollute, done with a scooch more subtlety. It’s another one with very notable stylism, but overall the story feels told before. It’s kind of the best of The Gruffalo and Let’s Pollute without really exceeding the strength of either.
Madagascar, Carnet De Voyage
A strange visual postcard by Bastien Dubois, what it lacks in story it makes up for in mixed media presentation. Sometimes, you forget that it’s actually an animated feature, and then it aggressively reminds you. It combines pastel, watercolor, acrylic, plus stop motion work. It’s like someone went apeshit in a Michael’s crafts, and I love the hell out of the look. I just wanted a bit more from the story — but it’s just as advertised, a travel journal.
Of the five features, I really don’t have a strong favorite. The smart money is on Day & Night, since most folks will see it and sort of pimp it akin to Toy Story 3. Artistically, Madagascar is the best looking, but I think I just favor Let’s Pollute for having the closest thing to an original narrative. I actually think the Plymptoon was the best project of all — but you can’t write in an Oscar vote. Yet.