Every year the Academy Award nominations for best picture and best actor and actress overshadow Oscar categories like sound and documentary. One of my favorite unsung categories – and one that’s now being highlighted in select theaters – is “Best Animated Short Film.” Five films, along with a few honorable mentions, are now shown back-to-back in what is easily one of the most enjoyable movie-going experiences each year.
Here’s a description of the contenders:
“Dimanche/Sunday” (Canada) features a flat, stylized animation as simple as its story – an every-boy’s stereotypical Sunday. He and his parents attend church and a family reunion. With a few comic bits comparing various relatives to squawking birds, it’s a good depiction of any given Sunday, but probably the weakest of the selections.
“The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore” (United States) is at times funny but mostly a touching, contemplative look at reading. The film is “traditional” by today’s standards – stylized 3D computer animation gives the short vibrancy. It opens with writer Morris Lessmore being swept away by a tornado, in a sort of reverse of the Wizard of Oz that sucks the color from people and letters from books. Lessmore’s color is restored when he stumbles upon an old house inhabited by flying books. He becomes their caretaker, and his life at the house illustrates how books can transport a reader to another world, and, in one’s old age, give them new life. It’s one to really think about, and a strong contender.
“La Luna” (United States) shows two “fishermen,” a grandfather and father, taking the father’s son on his first trip to the moon, where they clean the surface of shooting stars that have cluttered it. It’s a cute coming-of-age story in a fun 3D style, showing how both generations attempt to sway the up-and-comer, who ultimately makes his own way.
“A Morning Stroll” (United Kingdom) is a Sundance Jury Prize winner about a chicken wandering the streets of New York City. The same scenario plays three times, first in the 1900s, in simple comic strip animation, then with toon-ish style set in present-day, and finally in a 3D zombie infested post-apocalyptic future. In each version, a tall, skinny male New Yorker sees a lone chicken hopping along the sidewalk until it arrives at a house, where it pecks on the door and is let in. In each instance, the male protagonist reacts very differently, showing the decay of society from one of contemplative wonder to one of attention deficit, and ultimately mindless hunger. It’s hilarious.
“Wild Life” (Canada) uses a painted style mixed with news reporting to show an English lad’s attempt to make himself into a Canadian rancher. It compares his cycle of life to that of a comet – not quite a planet, but with a lot of glory, that eventually pitters out and dies, forgotten and alone. For its unique use of interviews, montage and cosmic comparison, it also has a good shot.