Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The 2013 Oscar Nominated Animated Shorts (opening in Cleveland on February 1st exclusively at the Capitol Theatre)

[THE 2013 OSCAR NOMINATED ANIMATED SHORTS opens in Cleveland on Friday February 1 st exclusively at the Capitol Theatre. See theatre website for times.]

Review by Bob Ignizio

Produced by Disney and directed by John Kahrs from a story by Clio Chiang and Kendelle Hoyer, Paperman is essentially a one-joke silent comedy about the enduring (and probably unhealthy) idea that true love is “destined”, and that unseen forces will assist in bringing together those who are meant to be. If you can at least pretend to buy into that fantasy for 5 minutes or so, then it's a fairly cute and well made short good for a smile or two. The animation is a blend of cel and computer techniques, with the characters possessing the trademark Disney look.

Another one joke comedy, Adam Pesapane's Fresh Guacamole is smart enough not to drag its premise out any longer than necessary. It clocks in at a minute and 41 seconds, but in that time shows considerable creativity and a good sense of comic timing. Using the stop motion animation technique, we see a pair of human hands make the titular dip using some rather unusual ingredients: hand grenades instead of avocados, for instance. The animation itself is a first rate of the stop motion technique, which like traditional hand-drawn animation is a time consuming, hands on process largely eschewed in the computer age. This one went beyond eliciting slight smiles to a few actual laughs and surprises.

In Head Over Heels, written and directed by Timothy Reckart, we meet an old married couple wake up and start to go about their day. The big twist is that one of them walks on the floor, and the other one walks on the ceiling, representing the distance between this once happy couple. The two have gone to great and ingenious lengths to avoid each other, finding ways to easily shift appliances from one surface to the other and so on. Can anything get these two back on common ground?

Like Fresh Guacamole, Heels utilizes stop motion, specifically Claymation. Like all the shorts in this year's program there's nothing here that wouldn't be fine for all ages, but the tone is a little more adult, and finding ways to overcome the problems that arise in any relationship is a far more practical message than the vapid “true love is magic” pablum in Paperman. More pathos than laughs here, but some of the ways the couple keep their distance will elicit a chuckle or two.

Director Minkyu Lee, who did character design for Disney's WINNIE THE POOH and WRECK IT RALPH, took some time off from his day job to make this short about the special relationship between the first man and the first dog, and how the arrival of woman changes things. It's nice to see a film done entirely using old school hand-drawn techniques, and it's not surprising given Lee's background that the characters here have that distinctive Disney look, albeit in a somewhat more rough-hewn form. The animation itself is also considerably rougher than Disney, with many of the character's movements being somewhat herky-jerky. Still, not bad. Neither is the short, although at fifteen minutes it's way too long for the story it has to tell.

Finally we come to The Longest Daycare, starring Maggie Simpson from the long running television series The Simpsons. The short is directed by David Silverman and conceived by James L. Brooks who co-wrote the short with several of the regular writers from the show. Maggie gets dropped off at the Ayn Rand daycare where she's promptly assessed and taken right past the rich stimulating environment reserved for the “gifted” babies to a dark, depressing corral for the mere “average”. The one bright spot is the presences of several lovely butterflies that have gotten into the room, but the insects are in grave danger from a mean spirited little tot who likes to smash them with his hammer. It's up to Maggie to save what bugs she can.

The Longest Daycare is this critic's favorite of this year's animated shorts nominees, which is kind of sad in a way. One hopes that somewhere out there in the big wide world this past year, the Academy voters could have found a short or two that not only gave everyone's favorite pacifier-toting toddler a run for her money, but maybe even did something truly astounding or innovative. Certainly nothing in The Longest Daycare meets those criteria, either. It's just funny and clever and extremely well done, and in the end surprisingly the most inspirational and life-affirming of the nominees.

Overall, this is a better group of nominees than last year's, and also a much more upbeat group. This year's program is being billed as a “family friendly” program, though some may disagree given some minor nudity in Adam And Dog (it is set during the book of Genesis, pre-”Fall”, after all). That said, none of these shorts feel like they're treating their audience like children. Three additional shorts are included in the program that weren't nominated: Abiogenesis, Dripped, and The Gruffalo’s Child.

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