The most surprising thing about the animated shorts nominated for the Oscar this year is that Pixar's entry is one of the weakest of the bunch. I'm wearing my heart on my sleeve for:
“The Lost Thing” (picture above)
In this Australian entry, a singular boy wanders around an odd beach collecting bottle caps when he comes across a strange creature. The playful and friendly thing looks somewhat like a hermit crab stuffed inside a red teapot and, when, at the end of the day, no one's claimed it, the boy is concerned that it is lost. He brings it home, but mom is disturbed its feet will dirty the carpet and dad is afraid it might carry disease, so he needs to find another solution. He's directed to a cold and clinical government agency where the janitor, another 'lost thing,' advises him that if he cares he should bring his lost thing to another address. A door down an alley opens to reveal a wonderful world, an imaginative cross between the Land of Misfit Toys and Dr. Seuss. As the boy grows older, he realizes he sees fewer and fewer of the 'lost things,' perhaps because he's too preoccupied with other things. A delightful yet melancholy life lesson. A
“Day and Night”
“Toy Story 3" was preceded by the Pixar short, "Day and Night," in which the outline of a blobby cartoon man is filled in by the natural background we only see within his lines. It's a humorous idea, handled wittily as storm clouds indicate the passing of gas and a waterfall the morning's passing of liquids. Then the man's opposite, showing in nighttime what he shows in light, arrives and the two begin to squabble. It's supposed to be a message on tolerance, but it loses itself a bit and the good idea grows repetitious. (Director Teddy Newton voices "Toy Story 3's" Sunnyside insider, Chatter Telephone.) B .
“Madagascar: A Journey Diary”
This French entry from Bastien Dubois is the most artful of the lot, a very close second to "The Lost Thing." A European traveler in Madagascar runs into a friendly local who invites him to his aunt's home far off the beaten path to observe the Famadihana custom known as 'the turning of the bones,' where people rewrap the bodies of their ancestors for fresh burial during a day of celebration with music and food. Dubois uses multiple techniques such as line drawings, watercolor, what appears to be rotoscoping and a style that almost looks like moving embroidery. Sometimes his pictures are embedded within a diary and travel documents. This is a stunning and very individual approach honoring the beauty and traditions of a foreign land. A
This US film takes the form of a 1960's Public Service Announcement film for its satiric promotion of pollution as not only one of our inalienable rights but a duty to our economy. The retro animation will bring a smile to those who remember, but it's the sharp and clever writing that make this one notable. B
Is the longest of the animated entries at just under a 1/2 hour. This adaptation of a children's book was originally made for the BBC and features voice work from Oscar nominees Helena Bonham Carter and Tom Wilkinson as well as Robbie Coltrane as the titular beast. This one's told as a fairy tale by a mother squirrel (Bonham Carter) to her two children and is a rhyming fable about brain over brawn. A mouse walks through the woods and outwits a fox, an owl and a snake who are attempting to make him their next meal by inventing the Gruffalo, a beast whose favorite food changes to fit the mouse's predator. But when the squirrel children get used to the story's rhythms, mom mixes things up by presenting the Gruffalo, who also wants to eat the mouse. This one's rendered in CGI that is rather unsophisticated for audiences used to Pixar - the animals' fur and feathers are flat - and the Gruffalo itself seems borrowed from "Where the Wild Things Are." The story is more suitable for children than adults, who may find it takes an awfully long time to make its simple points. Still it has its simple charms. B
With the exception of the comical standout, "God of Love," the live action shorts, three of them from the UK, all feature children and death as themes.
Sam is taking his first confession seriously, but his friend Jacob is a bit of a trouble maker. First Jacob tempts Sam into Collins' field on the way home, a forbidden route. Then he schemes up a prank on the farmer who owns it. Things go horribly wrong, startlingly so. Sam is convinced everyone knows what happened, but Jacob keeps telling him it was an accident. Jacob's assurances are ironic. This starkly beautiful looking film doesn't go where you expect. It's a bleak chiller with a strong moral center. A-
Ardel is in love with his second grade teacher Miss Purdy. After class he presents her with a costume ring which she accepts with great sincerity. But when Ardel and his mother run into Miss Purdy downtown, he discovers his ring has been replaced with a real engagement ring from Pierce, a man Ardel instantly sizes up as beneath her. When Ardel proposes a duel, with pistols, Pierce is amused. It's no surprise Pierce is taking the situation much too lightly. This Irish entry is somewhat offbeat and Charlie Bonner imbues Ardel with single minded confidence, but in the end it's a bit far fetched. B-
“God of Love” (picture above)
Luke Matheny has already won a student Oscar for this delightfully wacky 18 minute U.S. entry which plays like a New York based Napoleon Dynamite in black and white. Raymond Goodfellow sings with a jazz combo that's got an unusual gimmick - Ray throws darts with incredible accuracy during his numbers. Raymond is head over heels for the group's drummer, Kelly, but Kelly only has eyes for Raymond's best friend Fozzie. Ray prays for Kelly's love and is answered by a package from Olympus Foundation containing the Love Dart 3000. Raymond discovers that while he may be able to kickstart a romance, the short term effects only provide the object of the darted ones' affections a type of tryout window. This whimsical paean to love marks the debut of a very talented filmmaker. A-
This UK short from Ian Barnes takes an unorthodox look at a Make-a-Wish situation. Teenaged David is a cancer patient who surprises the agent of his 'Wish' form with a request to lose his virginity. He's told to figure out something else, but sticks to his dream. His buddies try to help, but he's not allowed to board a public bus with his drip. A friendly priest (Dean Barnes of "Downton Abbey") tries to intervene, but after he witnesses the boy's disappointment upon discovering the girl he's been writing to is in a relationship, becomes an unlikely accomplice. "Wish 143" isn't as technically accomplished as the other entries, but features some nice writing and a sure footed balance between comedy and drama. B
A truck breaks down in Burundi and its passengers join those of a passing van. Shortly, they are stopped by Hutu rebels determined to exterminate any Tutsi people among them. This Belgian nominee creates unbearable tension as Hutu leaders argue among themselves as they target each passenger and we hear varying stories. Then, the smallest among the Hutus, a child far too young to be armed, demands the Walkman from an older boy among the captured and the mood breaks. The filmmakers use a three-way pun (the film's title translation being one of them) for their climax that, while clever, also plays a bit gimmicky given the seriousness of what has come before. Still, the film is very well done and its subject is an important one. B+
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