The Oscar nominees for 2011's animated shorts include "La Luna" from Pixar, their only hope after failing to make the feature category for the first time, in contention with "The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore," the British time-tripping "A Morning Stroll" and two Canadian entries offering two very different perspectives on the culture. Unlike other years, this crop has no clear winner as each has a very different appeal.
My personal favorite is the Canadian "Wild Life" which begins as a riotously funny poke at the Brits who ventured into unknown territory ill prepared to deal with Canada's vast expanses. The cultural clash couldn't be more pronounced in this documentary approach to animation which features series of 'stills' for historical purposes and factual inserts about comets which conclude in a critical, melancholy metaphor. Brush-stroked drawings are animated to 'flutter' before the eye in which the rendering of a poured cup of tea is a thing of liquid beauty. The turn of the century 'adventurer' who declares he is 'gonna be a rancher' is the wonderful creation of writer/directors Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby, who have an adroit knack for changing tone. B+
The other Canadian animation is "Sunday/Dimanche," a French language rumination on how weird a routine Sunday can appear through the eyes of a lone child left to entertain himself. This mixture of black line and muted watercolor animation from Patrick Doyon will have animal lovers cringing as he casually dispatches wild life on the road, against windows, for dinner and with trains, but his perverse sense of humor has a cumulative effect. B
"The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lesmore" is an adaptation of a children's book eBook and, at 15 minutes, is the series' longest entry. This is a fantastical ode to the joy of reading where enchanted librarians keep tabs on the titular books until a successor ensures a life beyond. A Buster Keaton lookalike is whisked away, "Wizard of Oz" style, to a world where a beautiful woman floats through the sky with a bouquet of books and Humpty Dumpty, a book gives counsel, animated by the rapid turning of his pages. Along with "Wild Life," this CGI animation which the retro look of hard copy book illustrations pulses with the most emotion and is my bet for the win. B+
"A Morning Stroll" is more about cleverness and laughs as Grant Orchard warps the tale of the chicken who crossed the road with sensibilities of the past, present and future. In 1959, jazz and black and white line animation shows us a chicken who outsmarts his human counterpart on city streets. In 2009, videogames become part of the story as well as informing the animation style and the fate of man in 2059. Orchard wraps back around at the end to show us that the more things change, the more they stay the same. B
"La Luna" is the Pixar entry from "Up" storyboard artist Enrico Casarosa making his writing and directorial debut (backed by a gentle if derivative score by "Up's" Michael Giacchino). This is a sweet little entry about a young Italian boy who's taken out by his brawny, mustachioed father and white bearded grandfather on a rowboat, but their livelihood is not fishing. Prompted to climb a ladder with a rope tied around his middle, Bambino finds himself on the surface of a moon covered in stars, which the family is responsible for sweeping up (grandfather prefers a mop, Bambino will lean towards a rake). The final shot of the short reveals how the rest of us experience their efforts. This looks like typical Pixar CGI, softened around the edges, and is a sweet if slight entry. Their 'Hawaiian Vacation' short, which featured the Toy Story characters and played before "Cars 2," was a lot more dynamic and had a lot more wit. B-
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