The Animated Shorts 2011
Sarah 48, Death Race 8; 20 of 24 categories completed
The 2011 crop of animated shorts, like their live-action brethren, also came off less turgid than last year's; I liked almost all of them. But I only loved one.
You can find all of these shorts save The Gruffalo on iTunes.
The Gruffalo is pretty mild, but enjoyable, with a hit parade of British actors: Helena Bonham Carter, Robbie Coltrane, Tom Wilkinson, and John Hurt, among others. It's based on a book, which I haven't read, but sticks to a traditional fairytale structure, so for adults, it may read as deliberate and predictable. But the animation made me want to go for a walk in some woods, and it has a few cute bits like the owl ice-cream cone and the snake in the party hat. Not an artistic game-changer, but might make a good, not-that-annoying-on-repeat purchase for parents.
Also not a game-changer: Day & Night, this year's Pixar short, which you've probably seen if you've watched Toy Story 3. It's pretty to look at, and sweet-natured, with a few visual nods to Fantasia, but the idea doesn't have a ton of depth narratively.
Neither does Madagascar, a Journey Diary, a collage of different animation styles that is meant to function as more of a collage. I wanted to like it a lot more than I did, and the form of the different drawing and modeling styles following the function of the story, the overheated and surreal quality foreign travel sometimes takes on, is a great idea; it has a few breathtaking moments, like the "helicopter" shot over the beach towards the end, or the way the jouncing taxi is rendered.
But the subtitling is a problem on several fronts: misspellings; word-for-word translations that don't work idiomatically; whole paragraphs on the soundtrack or in text on the screen that don't get translated at all. I knew I was missing something, and certain sequences nearly barrage the audience with margin notes and signage to the point that no subtitles could keep up cleanly — but I'd almost have enjoyed it more with no subtitles at all, just immersed in the atmosphere of it instead, which it does very well (the sound design is fantastic). Instead, it teases us with background on a Malagasy tradition and then doesn't quite follow up.
I don't know squat about how hard it is to bring certain styles to screen versus other styles, but this one seems pretty challenging, and I think it could win, my frustrations with it notwithstanding.
I wish The Lost Thing could win instead; again, I don't know how voters choose in this category, and if it's based on the relative technological challenges presented, I don't think The Lost Thing does anything groundbreaking. It's funny, but it's not hilaaaarious. It has things to say about modern culture, but it's not super-political. It's a story of an underemployed young man with a bottlecap collection and a know-it-all friend, living in an industrial city, who finds a strange…thing on the beach. It's a seeming hybrid of a diving bell and a king crab, and the guy takes it home, lets it pester his parents, gives it an unconventional snack, and then tries to find a place for this thing that has no place.
There is a…not sadness, but an elegiac tone that pervades the short that I just loved, coupled with a dry humor (the bell/crab having trouble with a lampshade, and getting menaced by a yappy dog in the background of a shot). The Federal Department of Odds & Ends put me in mind of that Tex Avery (…I think?) cartoon with all the kitchen hybrids, like the chicken crossed with the toaster, but when man and hybrid arrive at the office, it reminded me more of Dark City. And the writing is balanced, pairing phrasings like "as the hours slouched by" with the hilarious commercial for the D of O&E. It does just what it sets out to do, this movie, and I thought about it all day.
Let's Pollute, animated in a retro style (which the filmmakers call Ultra-Flat 2D), is pitched as a satire of a social-hygiene film, and between how hard it's trying with that, and how it clearly aims to capitalize on the victory-for-snark win of Logorama last year, it took a while to win me over. But I'm a cheap date in that I kind of love social-hygiene parodies, and the pace is deliriously fast, with explosions and birds getting killed and callbacks to worms with three heads. My favorite part is the letter to the Senator, which isn't onscreen long but cracked me up for 15 minutes afterwards. My second favorite part: "You can always care less!" Narrator Jim Thornton (the announcer on Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!) is perfect as that stentorian '50s-sounding VO dude who tells you how to live. This could win too, I suppose, although it's very short and very obvious.
Tags: animated shorts Day & Night Helena Bonham Carter Jim Thornton John Hurt Let's Pollute Madagascar a Journey Diary movies Oscars 2011 Death Race our friend English Robbie Coltrane The Gruffalo The Lost Thing Tom Wilkinson