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Home » Culture and Criticism

The Animated Shorts 2011

Submitted by on February 24, 2011 – 10:16 AM11 Comments

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.




  • Nina A says:

    If you liked The Lost Thing, you might check out Shaun Tan’s books, particularly The Arrival and Tales from Outer Suburbia.

  • Liz says:

    Agh, I couldn’t disagree more on Let’s Pollute! If it were 75% shorter, I think I would have loved it, but it got to the point where I just wanted to go outside & litter or buy an SUV, just out of contrarianism. *Way* too long. It’s like those SNL sketches that are made into movies. Funny for a minute & half, irritating as hell for any longer.

    I really liked the Madagascar Travel Journal, but I’m with you on the subtitles. At some point, I just pretty much stopped paying attention to them, so maybe that’s why I came away with a better feeling about it.

    I think the Gruffalo will win, though. It was cute. I wouldn’t be horribly disappointed if it did, though I’d rather see the Madagascar one win it.

  • Georgia says:

    I definitely liked The Lost Thing best, because I cared about both the characters AND the plot. Not the most innovative animation (I’d give that to Madagascar Travel Journal), but certainly well done.

    I guess I can’t really judge Let’s Pollute! on plot/characters, but while it made me laugh, it just wasn’t original. Day & Night was cute, but I didn’t really care. Also, the end doesn’t really make sense to me — if Day turns to Night (and vice versa) every day, presumably, why are they so surprised by each other/that they turn into each other? It gave me the same feeling I get when I watch time travel movies; I just can’t wrap my head around it.

    The Gruffalo is the one that I like the least, by far. The animation was fine, as was the voice acting, but it’s SO long, for very little payoff. And when I realized that the whole thing was rhyming (though, to their credit, the actors did their best to make this unobtrusive), I could barely stand it anymore.

  • DuchessKitty says:

    I too think The Gruffalo has the prize in the bag. I didn’t realize it was from a book, but that makes sense. The story was the most developed of any of the films.
    Day & Night was totally underwhelming. Easily one of Pixar’s worst.
    And I agree about the poorly done subtitles being distracting and unnecessary in Madagascar.

  • Stephanie says:

    @Nina, I just read The Arrival last weekend. Dear god that is good. So much conveyed without one single word.

  • Nina A says:

    @Stephanie Yes. he’s only now getting known in the US. I had the privilege of meeting him-a really nice man. Definitely pick up Tales.

  • Peg says:

    I saw them yesterday and enjoyed them all. The animation in “Madagascar” was very impressive, but its dreamy quality made it hard to engage very deeply with it (though I think that depth is there).

    Loved “Let’s Pollute”; I laughed out loud throughout.

    “The Gruffalo” was very nicely done.

    I also enjoyed the “commended” ones. “Urs” was lovely.

    I think my favorite was “The Lost Thing”: so magical and inventive, yet so real and moving. Beautiful and sad and hopeful.

  • Monty says:

    “Urs” was the most Russian thing I’ve ever seen. So, so Russian!

  • Liz says:

    Regarding Let’s Pollute, the film certainly was not informed by the tone of last year’s winner, Logorama, given that it was completed in 2009. Please check your facts before you publish.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    But why should I, when I can rely on Let’s Pollute’s attorney to correct me so politely!

    Okay, seriously: I apologize for the error. That said, if the issue is my implication that Let’s Pollute is derivative, well, it…is. It’s derived from good stock, and I thought it did its thing well and wittily, but it isn’t breaking new ground here. It may not need to, in order to win, which is fine, but ease up with the attitude maybe.

  • edith says:

    yeay for the lost thing. so, so happy it won. what a beautiful, haunting, charming, perfect short.

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