Monday, February 20, 2012

Oscar Nominated Animated Short Films 2012 (Various)

Continuing last week's review of Chico and Rita, we now enter another aspect of the Academy's choices for the best animated features of 2011; this time with nominees for short film. As this is my first time viewing those nominated for this category (other than Logorama and the various Pixar shorts, I've never seen a nominee before), I entered the crowded theater with vast curiosity, excited to see what these mostly debuting directors could do with the low runtime animation format. Other than a technical dilemma in the theater which rendered the opening short to be incomprehensible, I mostly enjoyed the shorts, but on varying levels. Here are four short reviews for this year's Oscar nominated animated short films:


Due to technical problems with the theater's projector, along with auditorial issues which made audio from trailers play over the actual audio from the film, myself, and just about everyone in the theater, had no idea what was happening. Because of errors far beyond the film itself, this darkly comedic short turned into an incomprehensible mess. Hopefully it'll be available online soon; the few bits which survived the mechanical chaos were pessimistically hilarious.

Grade: N/A

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore:

Equal parts homage to the classic 1939 film The Wizard of Oz and imagination itself, "Mr. Morris" is a narratively simplistic, yet beautifully CGI animated love story between a man and his beloved books. After his New Orleans-esque town is decimated by a tornado (in what could be easily considered to be the most visually striking sequence to be found in all five shorts), a younger man is introduced to a far off mansion, in which the books read truly do come alive. Entirely silent, with its only noticeable score being an orchestra cover of the childhood staple "Pop Goes the Weasel", the short shows mostly glimpses of this man's life while growing old with these magical books. A series of vignettes in what could already be considered a vignette, we watch various scenes into this whimsically imaginative life, such as saving a novel's life by reading it. This short is just as fantastic as Mr. Morris's flying books. Though I apologize for the abysmal pun, it's hard to summarize the film any other way.

Grade: A

La Luna:

A short that strives to warm the heart of its viewers, and mildly succeeds. A longtime storyboard artist for Pixar, Enrico Casarosa wrote and directed this incredibly sweet fairytale about a family responsible for clearing the shooting stars off the moon. It'd be simple to cynically count the number of blatant audience manipulations this film uses (almost comically adorable main character for starters), but other than the one listed under parentheses I won't. My problems don't necessarily lie with the not-so-subtly manipulative script, but rather the lack in plot. While I don't expect too much from a short with a runtime of seven minutes, credits included, there's no character development, and barely a featured plot. What we have is a cutesy premise, animated. Though it may sound as if I disliked this short, in reality I enjoyed it quite a bit. It's short and sweet, but still has some glaring flaws.

Grade: B

A Morning Stroll:

Sadly, this was the only true dud of the bunch. Amplifying my criticism of La Luna's general pointlessness by a great deal, this short's only goal seemed to be how many animation styles it could cram into its seven minute runtime. Showing a bystander's perspective of a chicken going on a morning stroll in a city implied to be NYC during three different years (1950, 2011, 2050), this film not only lacks barebones narrative structure, but even the premise's potential offbeat comedy. The gimmick is that the style of animation changes every year, but nothing is gained from this. In fact, the switches in style work negatively as, in my opinion, the animation featured is at its best when most simplistic. Combine all this with an unfunny random apocalyptic zombie sequence, and a bizarre convoluted conclusion, and you have a nominee more inexplicable than 2009's The Blind Side.

Grade: D+

Wild Life:

The only dramatic short nominated, this water color hand painted tragedy depicts the foolishness of a young spoiled Brit who, in 1909, moves to Calgary to become a ranger without the skills or supplies to do so. Using early laughs to move the audience into unexpected sadness, the melancholy tone of the short allows both the light touches of comedy and depressing moments to succeed in equal measure. The only minor problem with the short are its underdeveloped characters. While this may be a theme in most short films I must come to accept, for now, it will remain a mild criticism. Despite essentially going through an experience which will change his life forever, the British main character, up until the end, remains static and unchanged. Overall, this is a touching, and overall rewarding short.

Grade: B

Due to the sheer number of them, I cannot review the entirety of "Honorable Mentions" shown with those nominated. However, the highlight of the bunch is a hilarious mockumentary about global warming named Skylight. Other than The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore it was probably my favorite animated short shown.

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