Movie Review: 2012 Oscar-Nominated Animated Shorts
I heard the Animated Shorts were better than the Live-Action Shorts, so why not check them out? I love animation, but, unfortunately, the selections were seldom my cup of whatever. The bulk (and by that I mean “all but two”) were computer-generated, which is something I don’t flat-out dislike but get really tired of. Animation presents so many possibilities, and yet most of these squander the opportunities. Why even bother if you just want to make it look like real life?
Likewise, many of the jokes come from a slight exaggeration of real-world physics. For example, in Nullarbor (not nominated, but on the program), one character’s car is destroyed. We see him sitting in the chassis. Pause. The motor comes crashing down. Full stop when it hits the ground. Next!
Similarly, many of the shorts are just ugly (but we’ll get to Mr. Morris Lessmore in a moment). Ugly can be great, but I don’t think it’s intentional, from the plodding dreariness of Dimanche to the utter banality of Mr. Morris. Only one short seems to make fun of that, and it’s not even nominated. But yap, yap, yap. Let’s move on.
I’ve divided the selections up into the nominated shorts and the others on the venue. Thus they’re not in the order in which they were presented, but does that really matter?
And before you call me a fuddy-duddy hater, I’ll do it myself. The other people in the theatre really seemed to be into all of them, particularly the fellow to my left, who took great care to read aloud every title and provide an entertaining, if not useful commentary. Though he reached a breaking point with Skylight, evidenced by the observation that “They don’t all turn into chicken! That’s a turkey, that ain’t no chicken! Aww that turned into a ham! That ain’t right!” The group to my left often made their satisfaction known by describing whatever sequence of events occurred several seconds prior, and, for the ones they really liked, noted that either “It was cute” or “That was funny.”
And why doesn’t that kid in the picture just step up a rung—then he’d be able to grasp the star?
Details: Canada. Nine minutes. Directed by Patrick Doyon.
Synopsis: A tyke puts coins on the railroad tracks of his humble village, attends Sunday dinner at his grandparents’, and mingles with a bear.
Thoughts: Points for not looking totally CGI, points docked for looking ugly. There’s not much animation-wise in the character design, though it would look good as a comic strip. There’s even less in the story, which looks like it’s killing time to get to short-film status. Again, better as a comic strip. Feels like there’s some theme or message in here, but I was too bored to figure it out. And the crows are stupid.
Details: UK. Seven minutes. Directed by Grant Orchard.
Synopsis: Three separate people in three separate time periods encounter the same, seemingly-trained chicken.
Thoughts: This and La Luna were clearly the best. Orchard has fun with each time period and their respective styles. There’s actually some distinction between them, and though I’m done with the overuse of slightly-modified real-life physics, it was nice to see one character’s eyes rocket out of their sockets. Plus, the music had the (possibly inebriated, possibly cracked-out) fellow to my right rocking in his seat.
Details: Canada. Thirteen minutes. Directed by Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby.
Synopsis: In 1909, an Englishman takes off for Canada to make his way as a rancher, unprepared for the harshness of the prairie.
Thoughts: It gets points for not trying to be Pixar, and the look, inspired by Canadian folkart, is dead-on, but it doesn’t have much to say (and labors the point by pushing a comet metaphor). The people don’t do much for me, but it shines when we’re looking at the places. The shot of a storm coming in over the shack is truly fantastic.
Details: USA. Fifteen minutes. Directed by William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg.
Synopsis: Mr. Morris plays caretaker with living books, dressing them in their jackets, repairing them, and doling them out to the villagers.
Thoughts: Though it’s the front-runner, I found it bland, ugly, and uninspired. Morris’s design is so dull, he’s tough to look at, and the film gets caught up in its own preciousness way too often (well, all the time). Are we really supposed to embrace the theme of imagination when even the animators don’t seem to believe in it? The only moment that saves it is when Morris tries to bring a book back to life.
Details: USA. Seven Minutes. Directed by Enrico Casaroasa.
Synopsis: A tyke, his father, and grandfather play janitors with the moon.
Thoughts: Of all the nominated shorts, I felt this and A Morning Stroll were the only two that really took advantage of the medium. There’s some imaginative use of the camera, to say nothing of the concept, and I laughed at the brush and broom jokes.
Details: USA. Five minutes. Directed by Sam Chen.
Synopsis: A frog (gekko?) braves the dangers of the Amazon in search of food.
Thoughts: While I didn’t like the overly cutesy look of the animation, I think it was intentional, as it plays with your sympathies almost every second, starting out with the cute caterpillar and making the frogekko the villain, then the hero and the caterpillar the villain, then the big frog the hero, then the greedy villain, then it ends perfectly with a twist that reverses all of it. It’s like a cartoonish shuffling of cards that keeps you guessing for just the right amount of time.
Details: Canada. Five minutes. Directed by David Baas.
Synopsis: Global warning mockumentary with silly-looking penguins.
Thoughts: Two jokes, five minutes. Quit gawking! There’s math to be done!
Details: Russia. Five minutes. Directed by Serguei Kouchnerov.
Synopsis: Some robots try to outrun a storm, then each other and a storm, then team up to outrun yet another robot and still the same storm.
Thoughts: I feel like there’s some kind of message here, but I’ll be a duck if I can figure it out. I kind of liked the music, but it kept stopping.
Details: Australia. Eleven minutes. Directed by Alister Lockhart and Patrick Sarell.
Synopsis: Two drivers have it out over a pack of cigarettes along the godforsaken Nullarbor Plain.
Thoughts: There’s cheaply animated vomit straight from 1997, a disconcerting use of one character’s ass, and most of the jokes are pretty bargain-basement (There’s oncoming traffic in the other lane! The vending machine is broken!). Not awful or pretentious, just really mediocre. Why did this have to be animated? But I liked “Do not sit on whale.”