Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Friday, February 22, 2013

Recent Watches: 2013 Oscar-Nominated Animated Shorts

For a long time, if you weren’t a member of the Academy, you didn’t get to see the Oscar Nominated Short Films. Now, thanks to, the shorts have become available through pay-per-view on-demand and select theatrical bookings. (Back in 2010, I was lucky to catch the shorts at my near-by Alamo Drafthouse. While my small town is apparently cool enough to get an Alamo, we apparently aren’t cool enough to get the Oscar shorts for more then one year.) I especially like this since it means I can now have some investment in a category were I formally had none. Let’s start with the cartoons, shall we?

Adam and Dog
It takes a bit for this one to fully reveal its premise and explain its title. The short immediately caught my eye with its lush visuals, with painterly backgrounds and character designs right out of 1990’s era Disney. Starting with a dog wandering alone through some sort of prehistoric jungle, the short imagines a previously unknown chapter of Genesis. Before Adam met Eve, Adam met Dog.

Aside from looking gorgeous, this one is incredibly charming. It’s not like a filmmaker has to work hard to make dogs any more charming then they are in real life. The animators here perfectly capture the natural curiosity of dogs, as he sticks his head in places and ruffles his ears and snout. As the Ken-doll anatomy Adam and the dog bond, it shows the beginning of some common dog behavior. Lo, and the first stick was tossed, then returned, followed by the first belly rub. We feel for the little critter as he slowly gets to know his human and, after Adam meets up with Eve, is abandoned. The film has a perfect bitter sweet ending. The lovers are expelled from Eden, as they always are. Despite frightened by their new appearance, Dog reluctantly follows Man out of the garden, as love and loyalty trump even the fruits of Paradise.

This is easily the best of the nominated shorts and the one to beat, in my opinion. [9/10]

Fresh Guacamole:
This is the shortest of the films, at only two minutes long. With that limited run time, it doesn’t have much time to tell a story and is instead not much more then a cute visual joke. The stop-motion animation has a nice home-made quality, as the natural ingredients for guacamole are substituted with everyday objects. The presence of a grenade and gambling pieces makes me tempted to say this is some sort of commentary on something, but I think the short is nothing but a creative set-up and chuckle-inducing punch line. I liked it but I’m not sure why it deserved a nomination. [6.5/10]

Head Over Heels:
Another stop motion short and one of the funnier nominations. The short visualizes the metaphor of men and women living in different worlds quite literally, following an old marry couple, functioning in opposite gravities in a floating home. When the two argue, the gravity of their happy house is thrown out of balance.

There’s a little bit of fun-poking at gender roles in the middle, with the man stuck inside of the house with the woman being the only one that can leave. The central gravity-gimmick looses its humor pretty quickly though. Luckily, “Head Over Heels” doesn’t linger around too much and resolves itself in a sweet, funny manor. [7/10]

Being a Disney production that was attached to “Wreck-It Ralph” last fall, this one wasn’t included in the OnDemand Shorts packet. However, it’s easily found online and should be looked up. There’s a lot to like.

First off, the visual presentation is wonderful, in lovely grayscale with fantastic, immediately likable hand-drawn characters in the classic Disney style on CGI backgrounds. The story is an elegantly simple tale of a young man having to choose between the bureaucracy of work and love at first sight. The central gag of flying a paper airplane between two skyscrapers works well and leads to several laughs. The paper airplane bit is possible overdone near the end, even if that nicely pushes the short into the realm of magic realism. Over all, “Paperman” is lovely and probably my second favorite of the nominees. [8/10]

The Simpsons: The Longest Daycare:
There’s a certain novelty in a Simpsons theatrical short, though it probably would have meant more back during the show’s mid-nineties golden run. (This one wasn’t a part of the OnDemand packet either, by the way, and will presumably be released on DVD in the near future.)

As is typical of modern day Simpsons, this one overdoes several gags, such as the evilness of Baby Gerald, a paste lapping baby, and the general abuse the kids undergo. Despite that, there are still several funny background gags, such as a line of dolls that combine Raggedy Ann and Ayn Rand, or the opening titles which perfectly capture classic cartoon openings. The film isn’t just told from the youngest Simpson’s perspective, but actually mimics the toddler’s skewered perception of the world. The plot, which has Maggie protecting a budding butterfly from her arch-enemy, works well enough and actually got me to care about the cocoon’s eventual fate. It’s cute, perhaps nothing special, but nice enough. If nothing else, the theatrical animation budget boost makes it look way nicer then you’d expect. [7/10]

It’s interesting to note that all of these films lack any sort of dialogue, allowing the music to take precedence. This is probably as much a finical choice as artistic, since no dialogue means no actors to record but I actually like the effect. I have to say the score is quite strong with all four of these.

Aside from the nominated short, the package also includes a number of highly commended shorts. “Abiogenesis” is a silent, sci-fi tale of alien probes terraforming a planet. It’s full of elaborate detail, showing full-on robotic evolution, and ends on a nice note, despite the self-serious musical score. “Dripped” is a funny exploration of art appreciation, about an art thief who takes on the attributes of the paintings he thieves. It winds up being a homage to a specific artist and has some nice visual, despite an unappreciated stopover into pure abstraction.

Kubla Khan” and “Lost and Found,” neither of which have IMDb pages as of now, are pure abstraction. Both have a similar visual aesethic of images appearing out of swirling colors. The first is overwhelming, with its pounding musical score, hard to follow narration, and constantly changing images. The second is a bore, with nothing to offer but body parts peering out of the sand.

Finally, attached with the shorts is “The Gruffalo’s Child,” the sequel to 2010’s “The Gruffalo.” I had actually seen this one before. It reserves the premise of the first while repeating the story structure beat-for-beat. Unlike the original, the story is stretched out even for a twenty-minute runtime. Still, I did like it, if just for the lovely visuals.

The entire presentation is hosted by William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg, the directors of last year’s winning short, “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore.” I don’t know if the bumpers add anything but they are a nice touch. 2012’s crop of animated shorts is considerably stronger then last year’s. I’m rooting for “Adam and Dog.” What about you?

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