One of my favorite things to do in Oscar season is watch the short films. Last night, I watched the animated short films program – all five nominees, and four “highly commended” films. The program runs only about 80 minutes, but for the most part was pure joy – and I suggest that you check them out. Mini reviews of the shorts follows.
Sunday/Dimanche ***Directed by: Patrick Doyon.
This is a charming, old fashioned little film about the routine on Sunday for a French Canadian family – church, Grandma’s and home. The visual look of the film is stylized – the characters, the houses, the cars, the animals, are not realistic, but made up mainly of interesting geometric shapes more than anything else. It centers on a young boy, who begins his day by squashing a quarter on the train tracks. I liked the animation more than the story itself, which is a little slight, a little obvious, but it’s an enjoyable little film.
A Morning Stroll *** ½
Directed by: Grant Orchard and Sue Goffe.
The morbid side of me thinks that A Morning Stroll is the best of the nominees. It is a little film, taking place in three parts – one in 1959 one in 2009 and one in 2059 – and tells the same basic story – a man walking down the street in a major city, who sees a chicken pass him by, knock on a door and go inside. The changes to the story – in terms of animation, which goes from very simple black and white almost like a New Yorker cartoon to high tech compueter animation, and the story – the guy in 1959 is amazed by it, the guy in 2009 is amazed, briefly, then distracted by a new game on his cell phone, the guy in 2059 – a blood thirsty zombie with a throbbing brain – makes this the funniest, bloodiest of the bunch. Yes, it’s a bit slight compared to some of the other nominees, but it was the most amusing 7 minutes I spent during this program.
Wild Life **Directed by: Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby.
My least favorite of the nominees is this painterly film about a young British man who travels to Alberta in 1909 to become a rancher. His letters home to his rich family tell a sunny story of him finding success, but what we see is much harsher, as he struggles for survival – and intertitles compare his fate to that of a comet. Personally, while I didn’t mind the animation, I didn’t love it either, and I found the storytelling rather pretentious and unmoving. Perhaps its only because this was the only film of the nine shown that realized used dialogue, but I felt it was out of place. Overall, this felt much longer than its 15 minute running time.
The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore *** ½Directed by: William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg.
This wonderful film is starts with a Wizard of Oz in reverse, as the title character, obsessed with books, gets swept up in a wind storm and goes from a color world to black and white – but when he discovers a magical library, full of walking, floating books – and one very animated copy of Humpty Dumpty – his world turns back to color – and books do that for everyone he shares them with. This is an old fashioned story, extolling the love of books and reading, always an important message, that uses cutting edge technology and many different techniques to tell its emotional story. Yes, I think I loved A Morning Stroll more, but this is probably the biggest technical achievement in the race.
La Luna *** ½Directed by: Enrico Casaroasa
Pixar always seems to have a nominee in the running, and their entry this year La Luna is up to their usual high standards – unlike their feature from 2011 Cars 2. It is the charming, heartfelt little story of two old men and their new protégé, a young boy, whose job it is to clean up the moon. This is a beautiful film from start to finish, with distinctive visuals and character designs. Certainly a possible winner, and it would be a deserving one, as it once again proves why Pixar does this better than anyone else year after year.
Skylight *** ½Directed by: David Baas.
There were two Canadian films nominated – Dimanche/Sunday and Wild Life – but personally, this Canadian film, which just missed the cut, was the best from my home country. It is an hilarious, very short (five minutes) animated mock documentary about the dangers to wild life – especially penguins – because of the hole in the ozone layer. It’s technical aspects are spot on, making this look and feel like the typical of film your teacher used to show in class on the old reel to reel projector. Yes, it’s a one joke film, but at only five minutes, its still hilarious.
Nullarbor ***Directed by: Alister Lockhart.
This is an amusing road comedy about a young hotshot in his sports car desperate for a cigarette and the road war he wages with an old man in his beat up old car on a long stretch of nearly deserted Australian highway. Personally, I would have nominated this film instead of at least two of the actual nominees (Dimanche and Wild Life), as it was witty, funny, well animated and extremely entertaining. Yes, the ending was a little obvious, but it was still effective.
Hybrid Union ** ½Directed by: Serguei Kouchnerov.
This is an amusing little film about three little vehicles competing in a race with each other – one using an old fashioned fossil fuel consuming engine, another using solar power, and how they compete against each other despite their limitations – until a “smart” vehicle comes along and shames them both. Again, I liked the animation itself – the amusing designs of the vehicles is a highlight – but this was a one joke comedy that went no where – and unlike something like Skylight, its one joke wasn’t nearly as funny.
Amazonia **Directed by: Sam Chen.
Easily my least favorite film on the bill, this one centers on a very hungary lizard, who makes friends with a frog, and tries to find food in the Amazon, while avoiding becoming food for larger predators as well. The whole thing seemed a little too childish too me – well animated to be sure – but also exceedingly obvious, without a hint of darkness, and just quite simply not very good. I wouldn\t have chosen this one to end the program with, but that’s just me.