The 2012 Oscar Nominated Short Films open Friday February 10th, so people can see them before the 84th Academy Awards ceremony on February 26th. Five animated shorts have been nominated, and they are well worth a look. What makes each of these films remarkable is not just the technical artistry, but the strength of storytelling. Here, the unique blend of animation techniques, while impressive, only serve as powerful expressions of narrative rather than sensational gimmickry. Another element shared by all five films is a distinct sense of time and place. Each story has a vintage of its own, or in the case of “A Morning Stroll,” multiple snapshots of one place over a period of time. Overall, this mini collection of shorts is rich in its diversity and fun little surprises.
“A Morning Stroll” is a British film by Grant Orchard and AKA Studios. The story centers around a chicken who roams the streets of New York City. There are three pedestrian/chicken encounters over a stretch of 100 years—each marking a point of “progress” in our civilization. Using a blend of 2-D and 3-D computer graphics, the animation grows increasingly complex with each encounter. A fantastic soundtrack by Nic Gill also plays a heavy role in the storytelling. The imagery is so infused with sound and pulsing rhythms, it’s hard not to bob your head and groove to it.
“The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore” is Moonbot Studio’s first film, directed by Brandon Oldenburg and William Joyce (Shreveport Louisiana). It begins with a storm—Hurricane Katrina meets the Wizard of Oz—that whisks Mr. Lessmore away, dropping him into desolation and debris. Mr. Lessmore is a Buster Keaton type—a man of another era. His love of literature leads him to a new station in life, as he becomes a kind of steward for books in a living library. In the vein of “The Artist” and Scorsese’s “Hugo”, there is an ambience of nostalgia and a love for great things of the past. In this case, it is books and the power of story. The film is an exquisitely crafted work, featuring a seamless integration of stop-motion animation, hand-drawings, and computer graphics. Moonbot has released an interactive app version of the story for the iPad, and a physical book is in the works.
“Dimanche/Sunday” is a Canadian film, directed by Patrick Doyon (NFB). A boy in a small industrialized nowhere of a town, livens up his dreary Sunday by flattening coins on the local railroad tracks. This seemingly innocuous amusement turns out to have extraordinary consequences. The film has an intentionally flat 2-D aesthetic, where everything is slightly slanted and skewed, providing an odd sort of depth that suits the story well.
“Wild Life” is a Canadian film by Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby (NFB). A refined Englishman travels to the not so settled Alberta prairie, harboring dreams of being a “rancher.” After a bit of badminton, birdwatching, and philosophical musings on natural selection, our ill-prepared gentleman continues to ponder his situation as the threat of winter looms. “Wild Life” is a story of hubris and vanity, akin to a Jack London short story. The imagery is a play of warmth and darkness, with an aesthetic that is reminiscent of a turn-of-the-century watercolor.
“La Luna” is a short by Enrico Casarosa, an Italian storyboard artist for Pixar. It is inspired by Casarosa’s childhood experiences on the Genoa sea. A boy on a small boat with his father and grandfather is about to learn the family trade. It is a magical moment for the boy; but his father and grandfather continuously grumble at each other, as each tries to mold the boy in his own image. The boy discovers, however, that through his own curiosity and ingenuity, he has plenty to contribute to the family tradition. The dialogue is not in English, nor is it in Italian. It is in the universal language of gibberish.
The Oscar Shorts program has grown increasingly popular since it was launched in 2005. They will be released by ShortsHD and Magnolia Pictures February 10th, 2012. The films will also be available at the iTunes Store February 21st.
More info available at the ShortsHD site: http://theoscarshorts.shorts.tv/