Year four now of going to the Oscar Nominated Animated Showcase. My track record for the previous three years has been 2-for-3. I need a win here. I need it bad. 3-1 looks way better than 2-2. Pretty soon I’m gonna have more misses than hits, and you’ll wonder why the hell you’re reading a post by a guy who doesn’t even know what he’s talking about! Bring on the cartoon dogs and claymation British people, I gotta focus this time! [Eye of the Tiger starts playing from hidden boom box]
ME AND MY MOULTON
The first short was about three sisters growing up in Norway, as their artsy architect parents are way different from all the other parents in their area. Case in point, their dad has the only mustache in town. No kidding, literally the only mustache. It’s like the opposite of Wicker Park. But the girls are jealous of their neighbors and their normal life, and they don’t quite understand why their parents are such weirdos.
In the end, they sort of comically come to the conclusion that they should just embrace the family that was given to them. It was pretty funny all the way through, definitely entertaining; but I’m not sure it had that powerful of a message or ending. It was like an amusing collection of funny stories about growing up in a weird family, which you can find in many different forms in many other things. The animation was really colorful and pleasant, though. It’s simple and funny. Pretty decent.
8 out of 10
Next up was Feast, which you might have already watched if you saw Big Hero 6 in theaters last year. It’s Disney’s contribution to the showcase, about a stray dog that gets picked up by a guy who feeds him a whole bunch of awesome food, until the guy meets his vegetarian girlfriend who puts the limits on the dog’s spaghetti intake. I don’t want to ruin the pretty-good-for-a-six-minute-dialogueless-movie’s story if you haven’t seen it, but I liked it just as much on the second viewing. It pulls the heart-strings, and ends in a really crowd pleasing way. This is a good one. Also, the dog is cute. Bonus points.
10 out of 10
THE BIGGER PICTURE
This short about two brothers looking after their elderly mother was done in a cool style of animation that combined two-dimensional “paint on a wall” aesthetics with three-dimensional claymation accents, giving it a pretty unique look. This already won the BAFTA for short animation, but that doesn’t really mean much for winning the Oscar as well.
The problem with this one is that it’s just way too drab a story. It’s about as dry as British dryness can dry. If this were a live action short, it would be downright boring. But the weird visuals kept me at least interested in it while it was on. A neat triumph in animation, a sort of failure in conveying a story that other people will want to hear. Maybe it was a little too personal to be universally accepted? I don’t know. But the old people sitting in our row started losing it towards the end of it, if that tells you who this is catered towards.
6.5 out of 10
A SINGLE LIFE
This next one was, uh, kind of surprising as a nominee, in my opinion. It wasn’t really anything special. Not that it was bad, either. It’s about a woman who gets a magic record or something, and when she plays it at different parts, her life jumps around in age. So, if she puts it at the front of the record, she becomes a little kid, and then when she puts it on the last track she’s an old woman. Pretty simple concept.
I think what works best about it is that it’s only 2 minutes long. The gag is funny I guess, but it’s definitely not *that* great of a gag, and because it’s so incredibly short, it doesn’t really have a chance to wear out its welcome/gimmick. And that’s good, because I also didn’t like the generic nature of the CG animation either. It’s an acceptably fine, harmless short to watch. Whatever.
7 out of 10
THE DAM KEEPER
The final short film was The Dam Keeper, a fantasy-type short about a town of anthropomorphic animal citizens living under the safety of a dam that keeps out some deadly smog or something. The main character, an orphaned, school-aged pig, is in charge of keeping the windmill on top of the dam running. He’s relentlessly bullied by the other animal children, until one day he makes friends with a new girl, who’s a fox (literally the animal). [Jimi Hendrix starts playing ominously in the background]
It’s a pretty emotional story that plays out a lot of mixed feelings; ranging from friendship, to isolation, to betrayal, and so forth. You definitely feel for the little piglet. The whole things seems like it’s swimming in metaphor, and it’s without a doubt the most cinematic of all of these shorts. The chalky, water color-ish animation (I can’t really describe it) was certainly breathtaking, and I could see this one getting expanded into a feature-length film with the right treatment. There are a few shots that are still haunting me a few days after seeing it. It’s a good mix of whimsy, universally relatable themes, and oncoming doom. Pretty good.
9 out of 10
Highly Recommended: As always, since these shorts are usually really short, they played a handful of “Highly Recommended” shorts that are something of runner ups to the eventual runner ups. I don’t remember the names of all of them this time around, but one was about a CG caterpillar trying to fit in an undersized cocoon (it was ok), another about a scribbly protagonist hunting for a sound outside his bedroom window (not very good), the third was a beautifully animated abstract piece called Duet about two people with intertwining lives (great animation, so-so story), and finally a chuckle-worthy-but-not-outwardly-hilarious short about a Canadian girl who wanted to be a bus driver her whole life (it dragged).
So, who will win?
I’m going to write off Me and My Moulton and A Single Life as not being significant enough. Then I’ll say that The Bigger Picture is way too bleak to pull ahead of the others. I wouldn’t hate it if The Dam Keeper ended up winning, because I liked it a lot, but I’m wondering if it requires too much thought for the voters to give it the go-ahead? It’s also the longest of the five (18 minutes), and you can get a more succinct, happier story out of Feast in just 6 minutes. If I look back at the winners of the last three years, they were:
2012 – The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore – A crowd pleaser about magical flying books.
2013 – Paper Man – A crowd pleaser about paper airplanes making two people fall in love.
2014 – Mr. Hublot – A crowd pleaser about a lonely robot guy who adopts a robot dog.
The Dam Keeper ain’t exactly a crowd pleaser. But Feast certainly is. It has just the right amount of crowd pleasing simplicity to pretty much guarantee it will win. I’m going with Feast.