Saturday, February 12, 2011

Oscar Nominated Animated Shorts 2010/2011

More capsule reviews, this time the nominated animated shorts along with a couple of special mention, "highly commended" films:

Bastien Dubois' "Madagascar, a Journey Diary" is an 11-minute college of every different animation style you can imagine, a film that can only be seen to be appreciated. It doesn't exert that much of a pull and the audience member feels a bit disconnected, but it's powerful as an evocation of a country and (presumably) what that country is all about. The film probably should be seen more than once to be most properly received, as it blows past you, incorporating souvenirs from the trip as centerpieces in the drawings and more. That being said, it can't quite keep up with itself, getting a bit repetitive by the time it reaches its close. Even though it has a nice stream-of-consciousness feeling about it, I wish it been slightly more refined (and a bit less show-offy). Yet, it really does more for animation than any of the other nominees. B+

Deserving a nomination but only garnering a "Highly Commended" citation, Bill Plympton's "The Cow Who Wanted to Be a Hamburger" is jarring, arrestingly simple 8-bit hilarity. The title does accurately describe the film, but it makes it sound like less of a film than it actually is. What we get is an original work that only succumbs to trying to be allegorical at the end of its jam-packed 6 minutes. The (wrongheaded) cow training sequence is the piece de resistance. B+

If you've ever played the computer game Spore, where you create creatures just like the ones in this film, "The Lost Thing" by Andrew Ruhemann and Shaun Tan may seem both like less of novelty (in the way that "District 9" seems less original when you factor in its similarities to "Halo") and also may work its weird effect doubly well. It has relatively sentimental insights (something along the lines of "The Last Book in the Universe"), but it also refuses to surrender to an uplifting ending and creates an interesting if mildly hamfisted view of the apocalyptic future (evoking the album cover for "Hail to the Thief" as well as "1984"). It follows an unnamed fellow (Tim Minchin) who stumbles upon an unidentified object on a beach and tries to put it back in its place. This is another film that requires closer study, as it puts a lot in and one might not to get all of it out in a single viewing. B

Max Lang and Jakob Schuh's "The Gruffalo" is somewhat of a sentimental favorite for me, since I am automatically charmed by monsters like one shown in this one (see: "Where the Wild Things Are," which you may have noticed is the source for my avatar). Locked into rhyme and also feeling a bit intolerable at times, "The Gruffalo" didn't always work for me. But it's pleasantly drawn and has great voicework. It's a story-within-a-story, told by Mother Squirrel (Helena Bonham Carter) to her little squirrels (Sam Lewis and Phoebe Givron-Taylor), about a mouse (James Corden) who goes to get food and encounters predators (Tom Wilkinson, John Hurt, and Rob Brydon). He uses the threat of a Gruffalo as an alibi, and although they (and he) thinks he's making it up, it turns out to be oh so real (and voiced by Robbie Coltrane). It is a humorous short, something you can't say about all of the movies up this year. B

"Day and Night" from Pixar's Teddy Newton I had harbored resentment for since I saw it before "Toy Story 3." It's not quite as bad as I remembered it to be and definitely skillful, though it is too clever by half. It just seems from its idea (two whatchamacallits representing the two halves of the day who want to experience the other's enjoyments) and brevity that it was quickly thought up and quickly put together, and I'm still not quite sure how I feel about that. Also, it ends on a strange decadent note, having one thing relishing the hot woman it now has, the other savoring its newfound Vegas. Not too sure about that one. B-

"Urs" by Moritz Mayerhofer, the other "highly commended" short, is, except for its remarkable drawings, pointless. It involves an old man bringing his unwilling wife over a mountain (done in a jagged style evoking "Metropolis"). I was pretty bored with it. As a friend noted, it could be portraying some sort of legend, but that explanation doesn't really make it any better. C+

Finally, "Let's Pollute" is 6 minutes of needless agitprop about the environment. Sloppily animated and blunt as hell, it repeatedly tells you to destroy the planet instead of to try save it. It makes a mild dent, admittedly, and plays a bit better than I let on, but that it blocked "The Cow Who Wanted to Be a Hamburger" from a nomination is ridiculous. C

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