It is the deal breaker for most office Oscar® pools this time of year. In fact, the opportunity to have seen the selections for the Academy Awards’ Shorts categories could win you the whole pot. While I don’t profess to have any special expertise regarding animated films, I’ll try to give you a leg up on the guy in the next cubicle with a brief look at this year’s five nominees.
There are as different as popped corn kernels and as equally charming as children playing in the first snow. None of the shorts have dialogue. The sound effects and music are charged with packing the invisible emotional punch of these visually exciting films. And each film has a unique visual style and quite magical quality all its own which makes for a tough race this year.
Lavatory Lovestory is the sweet story of a Lavatory attendant who longs for love. She sees it in every photo and reads about it in every article in her magazine of choice: Happy Woman. Our somewhat plump, somewhat average leading lady drawing almost resigned to her life of solitude until one day when a bouquet of beautiful pink flowers appears in the mayonnaise jar she uses as a coin depository for use of the men’s facilities that she mans. Magically, they just appear, more than once even and she tries with little success to find the romantic soul who keeps leaving her flowers. In the end, she learns the lesson most of us inevitably do: that love is found where one least expects to.
This is a delightful short brought to life thought sparsely rendered sketch animation. Complete with merely human utterances (no real words), and a solitary piano reminiscent of Vince Guaraldi, this ten minute piece is completely in black and white, save for the exquisitely vibrant flower bouquets that punctuate the visual metaphor for life and joy perfectly.
Oktapodi is a quick and colorful two-minute tale of octopi in love. And when they are separated… well, let’s just say they are inseparable. Nor pet store owner nor evil sushi chef nor hungry seagull will keep them apart. Now that’s love, at break neck speeds, but love nonetheless. Very funny with a music and sound effect once again serving as the voice of the tale; no words need apply.
This Way Up. It is a situation that undoubtedly happens to most undertakers: while picking up the coffin containing the latest dearly departed, a boulder flattens and destroys the hearse. Alas, two undertakes must trek from far and wide to get Granny’s body and the coffin to the grave on time. They brave everything from hunters to untamed forest and even the fires lakes of hell to do their duty. Failure is not an option.
This short harkens to the darkly realized stop motion masterpieces such as The Nightmare Before Christmas and the recent Coraline, although the short is clearly animation and not 3-D. This shorts’ silent Abbot and Costello tenaciously do battle with gravity and bad luck in the finest spirit of their predecessors. Fans of Tim Burton will enjoy this ridiculously wacky rollercoaster.
In La Maison de Petits Cubes, an old man lives alone on a world where the ocean is continually rising. The today comes when the water level rises above his current floors. So he commences to build a new house on top of the old one that will soon be submerged. While moving his belongings to his new home, he drops his favorite pipe into the water, lost in the depths of the house below. However, when trying to pick a new pipe, he spies a scuba gear salesman in the distance and gets an idea.
The gear enables him to retrieve his favorite pipe. But once he is below the surface, he is compelled to explore deeper and deeper into the lower levels of the homes he once inhabited. He enjoys a bittersweet dive down memory lane. Even underwater, he can see the life he had and shared with his family, each level taking him further and further back in time, until he see the place where he meet his wife and fell in love. He watches in his mind's eye again how they built their first home from the ground up; a surface that is now the bottom of the still ocean.
This short is a beautiful homage to the metaphoric idea and actually practice of having a foundation; of the cornerstones upon which one builds his or her own life. The longest of the animated short entries, La Maison de Petits Cubes had the advantage of being sentimental and nostalgic; historically, the Academy loves nostalgia.
Presto is a world famous magician whose magic act revolves about two hats: a top hat which is a portal to a pointy purple wizards cap. Oh, and a hungry rabbit. If fact, this rabbit throws a serious monkey wrench into Presto acts, defiant over not having been feed. His stomach growls violently while Presto’s only concern is putting on a show. He learns a hard lesson from his rabbit. No carrot, no cooperation.
Presto is classic cartoon slapstick a la Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd. It is fast paced and a bit naught but perhaps the most predictable of the entries this year. I would guess that it is the fact that this carton is classic in so many of its elements and render so beautifully that fans of the glory days of Walt Disney found it irresistible to nominate.
So, which one to pick?
Lavatory Lovestory is the most “naked” of the entries. Again there is little detail. However there is a beautiful story, startling in its simplicity and genius in the statement it makes regarding in the use of color in storytelling. Oktapodi is a close second for its humor and the fact that it begs for a sequel, or at least a feature.
Prediction: Again, the Academy loves nostalgia and for that reason I would guess La Maison de Petits Cubes.
The complete program of Shorts both Animated and Live Action are playing in select theaters. For more information about theaters and showtimes, please visit the websites below.