What a bumper crop of crap. I won’t lie about my displeasure with the animation selections for 2012’s Oscar ceremony. While I appreciate the voters looking beyond the typical studio kiddie-meal factory farming, indie doesn’t always mean quality. I haven’t seen Chico and Rita, but I have seen A Cat in Paris, and it wasn’t exactly a ground breaking film, and lacked the dramatic depth of either of the Kung Fu Panda films. For all their animated choices, they seem to have opted for the Zach Snyder school of filmmaking: style before substance. And while this results in some beautiful looking imagery, the stories themselves are empty and dull. The overarching theme this year seemed to be the pleasures of home life and the community and its traditions. There’s nothing that stands out, there’s nothing with the all encompassing sockknocking power of Logorama. If I were a betting man, I’d put my money behind the Pixar film, if only because more people are likely to have seen it, and of the five films, it’s the least bad. Otherwise, it’s a disappointing mashup of dreariness and mumbled messagery.
The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore
dir. William Joyce, Branden Oldenburg (15 min)
If anything, this will be the dark horse that snatches the gold from people looking to bitchslap the animated hubris of Pixar. It comes from children’s book author William Joyce, who spends most of his time lushly turning Santa into a warrior prince when he’s not filling your children with “Roly Poly Ollie.” This was my favorite film, mostly because it’s a lovely throwback to the oldschool. It’d be a fantastic companion piece to The Artist. A young bibliophile, sitting amid his piles of books in New Orleans, is suddenly blown into the greyscale world of disaster. Suddenly, a woman riding a herd of flying books sees him and he is then rescued by reading. It’s the kind of thing they show children at a library orientation, complete with old timey Buster Keatonesque antics and a sweet narrative. It seamlessly blends multiple types of animation: 2D, stop-motion modeling, digital effects. And while you can practically see the rainbowcometstar of “The More You Know” flying overhead, extolling the virtues of a good book and the sadness of Hurricane Katrina at the same time, the film’s good enough that you can mostly forgive the slightly heavy handed pressure of the positive message.
dir. Enrico Casarosa (7 min)
Finally, Pixar gives us the original story of Super Mario Galaxy. Casarosa was a storyboard artist on a few of Pixar’s biggies — Ratatouille and Up — and so he’s got plenty of cred to bring to this sweet if sparse lovely fable. A young boy rows out into the middle of the ocean with his giant walrus briste mustachioed Papa and his slender broomstick bushy bearded Grandpa. It’s then that he discovers the family trade: sweeping falling stars off the moon. There’s not much to it, but what’s there is quite lovely — speaking of tradition and the legacy of a boy following in the male heritage of his family. The moonscape, the moon at sea, the sweeping simple beauty of the stars — it’s a gorgeous damn film.
A Morning Stroll
dir. Grant Orchard (7 min)
Our entry from Britain is an odd bird. It takes place over a century, starting in 1959, then going to 2009, then to 2059. While walking to work, New Yorkers see a chicken strutting along the sidewalk, and then our poultry protagonist walks up a stoop and pecks at a door where she’s let in. It’s a commentary on our society, the politeness of the 1950’s juxtaposed with the electronics obsessed TwentyAughts, followed by…a zombie film. It blends imagery and style with a twisted bit of storytelling. But ultimately, the entire thing turns out to be a punchline — the danger of most short films. It feels like a sketched out joke: this chicken goes for a walk in New York, badumpbumptsh.
dir. Patrick Doyon (9 min)
I loathed this, the first of the Canadian entries. While I enjoyed the simple, silly, sketchbook style of the black and white animation, the story was atrocious. It was about a young boy and the Sunday tradition of his family, only it was coupled with an incredible amount of dissonant oddities. I can stomach a lot of quirk, but this just seemed like when a pastor tries to hep up the sermons by making awkward mentions of Pokemon or Yu-Gi-Oh! It felt like well-trod ground, pointless in execution, a filler to make an even five entries for the category.
dir. Wendy Tilby, Amanda Forbis (15 min)
Our second Canadian entry, from two talented female directors who have each garnered previous Oscar notice for their work. The visuals on this film were easily my favorite, hand painted landscapes where the moving brushstrokes acted as the motion of the lush backgrounds. Again, my disappointment came with the story, though it was easily one of the best of the batch. This was the lone film to actually feature understandable dialogue. It told the story of a foppish British noble coming to Calgary in 1909 to become a rancher/cowboy. It’s a shockingly morbid and yet mildly amusing tale, a fish out of water who eventually stops breathing and dies alone and scared. The film would have been another less than 10 minute entry if there weren’t so many moments where the animators just include long scenes of brushstrokes sailing by — either as sky or waving grains or a drifting ocean. And yet, that’s precisely what elevates this film beyond some of the other entries.