Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Reviews: Oscar-nominated short films -- Animated

10 minutes

In Patrick Doyon’s elegiac little tone poem, a small boy in a tiny town must endure the various constructions of grown-ups designed (in his mind) to torment him: uncomfortable clothes, boring church, gross fish dinners and, most dominantly, the speeding trains that rush by the village constantly, shaking the walls and rattling nerves. He places a Canadian coin in the tracks to flatten it, resulting in a somewhat scary flight of fancy involving a bear. Doyon employs a minimalist animation style – I adored the people’s stretched noses, and the fat little crows who act as a sort of Greek chorus.

3 stars out of four

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore
15 minutes

Oh, what a tidy treasure. This slick-looking but soulful piece of computer animation draws inspiration from “The Wizard of Oz,” Buster Keaton and a trove of literary references. A man watches as the wind blows away the letters in the book he is writing in, then turning into a hurricane that transports him into a magical land where books fly and communicate. He becomes their caretaker/librarian, and finds a new life that he understands very little, but which gives him meaning. I loved the various small touches, like a Humpty Dumpty book becoming his best friend, flipping its illustrated pages to show emotion, and the subtle transitions from color to black-and-white.

4 stars

La Luna
7 minutes

There’s no Pixar film represented in the animated feature category this year – a first – but the computer animation wizards still have an Oscar nominee among the short films. And it doesn’t disappoint, a whimsical portrayal of a young boy being indoctrinated into the family business. He rows out to the middle of the ocean with an old man and a younger man; are they fisherman? They give him a hat like just theirs, arguing – wordlessly, like the rest of the movie – about the proper way to wear it. Then they produce a ladder and climb up to an adventure. Short, sweet smart, poignant.

3.5 stars

A Morning Stroll
7 minutes

I loved this clever, slightly demented story, sort of a parable and sort of a rim shot joke. In 1959, a man -- depicted as an almost abstract stick figure -- walks down the street to a jazzy score. Suddenly, a chicken rounds the corner and strides purposefully toward a nearby door, where it pecks to be let in. Then things shift to the same scene 50 years later, now depicted with sleek computer animation … and then, forward another 50 years. Something delightfully different.

3.5 stars

Wild Life
13 minutes

In 1909 Alberta, a young upper-crust Englishman arrives in the Canadian prairie to make his fortune – if by that you mean a whole lot of musing and writing letters (narrated in a starched British accent) and not much working. It’s a beautiful-looking bit of hand-drawn animation, though the voice actors appear to have been coached to seek out and replicate every vocal clichĂ© they could find. A meditative musing on transplanted cowboys and comets.

2.5 stars

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