Monday, February 18, 2013

2012 Animated Short Film Oscar Nominees: The Reviews

2012 Academy Award Nominees: Animated Short Film
Adam & Dog, Fresh Guacamole, Head Over Heels, 
The Longest Daycare, Paperman
It is a curse of American thinking that animation is seen as primarily and exclusively as a children's medium.  That being the case, people imagine that watching 'cartoons' is not something they would do because they are for kids.  This might be a reason why it is rare to feature an animated short before a feature film.  When we do see an animated short, it tends to come before an animated or kid-friendly film.  This is why you have Toy Story Toons shorts being screened before the newest PIXAR or Disney film or how one of this year's Academy Award nominees (The Longest Daycare) screened before Ice Age: Continental Drift.

Given this mindset that only children would watch animated shorts (or actually, animated feature films...which makes one wonder what would happen if Grave of the Fireflies were shown to preschoolers), it does make some sense.  How does one present something like Paperman or Adam & Dog before The Hangover Part II or Zero Dark Thirty?  The sad thing is that before, particularly from the 1930s to 1950s, animated shorts we de rigueur in the filmgoing experience.  Perhaps as hard as it might be to believe, they showed cartoons before such films as Mrs. Miniver, It's a Wonderful Life, Casablanca, and Duck Soup among others.  Animated shorts were the norm, and seeing a "Mickey Mouse" or a "Bugs Bunny" was just part of the filmgoing experience.  Studios had their own animation departments, and Disney started out as just animation until Walt Disney in his business genius started branching out into first full-length animation (a revolutionary move in itself) and eventually live-action features.

Today, however, seeing an animated short before a film not geared towards children or families is a rarity.  This is perhaps why the Animated Short Film Oscar category seems to most people something from another world, another time.  Since they don't know the nominated films, they simply don't care about his category and thus, everything about it seems like a waste of time.  It is unfortunate that things have turned out this way, as the five Academy Award nominees for Best Animated Short Film category are inventive, well-crafted, sometimes funny, sometimes touching, and even more original and enjoyable than the films that follow them.  Now, for reviews of the five nominees based on order of presentation.

The Longest Daycare: 5 minutes

The Longest Daycare is basically a silent film (with music of course) where Maggie Simpson, the youngest of the Simpson clan, is taken to the Ayn Rand School for Tots (where A Is For "A").  Maggie undergoes a battery of tests that show her to be of average intelligence, so instead of being taken to the swanky Gifted Area, she is dumped in the appropriately dumpy Nothing Special section.  Here, she tries to find something to do, but is frustrated by another baby who delights in smashing butterflies.  Maggie finds a cocoon and knowing the fate it faces, she does her best to safe the burgeoning butterfly.  When all seems well, the butterfly appears to be similarly destroyed.  However, in the end we find that Maggie has hidden the newly-created butterfly as her bow, and the butterfly goes out into the world.

The Longest Daycare is cute and funny (about the only animated short where I laughed out loud...when you see Raggedy Ayn Rand Dolls, you have to laugh...unless you are a Libertarian devoid of humor, and I find that those friends of mine who are radicals for capitalism are remarkably short on that).  It would fit perfectly within a Simpsons episode, and perhaps that is my issue with it.  It was cute and funny and clever, but it also didn't seem anything out of the ordinary.  It might just as well appeared within a Simpsons episode.  I liked it, thought it wonderful, but not overwhelmed.


Adam and Dog: 16 minutes

Adam and Dog is based on the Biblical story of Creation as chronicled in the Book of Genesis.  We are in the Garden of Eden, and Dog is wandering through this brave new world.  He marvels at the world he is in, and then comes across a strange new animal.  This upright creature gives him some food, then is able to imitate Dog's bark.  Soon they start spending time together, until the upright creature meets someone else.  He no longer is interested in spending time with Dog and throws a stick far out to get rid of him.  Dog searches long and far and wide for his former friend, and then finds him and his companion during a fierce thunderstorm.  The two creatures are all but running out of Eden, victims of The Fall.  While all the other animals watch silently and turn away, Dog is the only one to follow Adam and Eve out of Paradise, where they wearily but joyfully embrace him.

Adam and Dog would fit in perfectly within Judeo-Christian theology (though given that we do see Adam fully nude, it might make more conservative Christians & Jews uncomfortable and not be shown to their children).  The animation was beautiful and this was another silent film with music and should be easy to follow for anyone who has a cursory knowledge of Scripture.  Finally, it does end with a note of optimism and hope, with Man's Best Friend earning his reputation.


Fresh Guacamole: 2 minutes

Fresh Guacamole is a very quick film. In stop-motion animation we see various materials such as a grenade and golf balls being turned into ingredients to make guacamole, with casino gambling chips used to scoop it up.

It was very clever, even amusing, but just like the real thing, I can't work up great enthusiasm for Fresh Guacamole.  However, I do admire the inventiveness behind it.


Head Over Heels: 11 minutes

Head Over Heels is about a couple who are so far apart they literally see the world from opposing viewpoints: the husband is on one level, the wife directly above him (or below, depending on how the house floats).  They don't communicate and live virtually separate lives.  The only thing they have is a photo of their wedding where the wife was kicking up her heels.  During the course of their day, the husband finds her shoes, repairs them, and attempts to give them to her.  He is rebuffed, and before their anger can grow the house finally crashes.  She is able to wander off, he stays on the opposite side.  Eventually she finds the shoes, and nails a series of shoes to the ceiling to be able to be with him.

Out of all the nominees Head Over Heels was the only one I didn't go crazy for.  It's a good idea and well-crafted, but perhaps the symbolism was a little too blunt for my tastes.  I also wasn't too thrilled by the actual look of Head Over Heels.  It's understood but not overwhelming.


Paperman: 7 minutes
Paperman is the tale of a young businessman or bureaucrat with a large stack of papers.  One of them flies into the face of a pretty girl, which imprints her red lipstick on it.  Instantly he is smitten, but she leaves on another train.  Later, the young man spots the girl from his office window to another building.  He launches several paper airplanes but none reach their target.  The lipstick-marked paper flies out the window, and the young man, defying his boss, runs after both it and the girl.  However, he cannot find either and he leaves in disgust.  The various paper planes, however, take on a mind of their own and find him, forcing him towards an elevated subway station.  The lipstick-marked paper finds the girl and leads her to the same station, where a paper-clad man and the girl meet.

I was thoroughly enchanted by Paperman, a sweet, cute, original and lovely story.  The only spot of color was the red lipstick, but the animation is strikingly beautiful, giving it a timeless quality where it would fit in perfectly in any time period.  Further, while the animation style itself is within the traditional Disney style, it still its own unique style to be appreciated.  Paperman is a well-written and drawn short that is just heartwarming.


First, some tidbits.  Fresh Guacamole is the shortest at a mere 2 minutes (the boob ad I've had to sit through was longer), with Adam and Dog the longest at 16 minutes (which puts it two minutes shorter than Asad, the shortest of this year's Live-Action Short nominees).  All of them are essentially silent films, and all except Fresh Guacamole (which I'd argue is just art for art's sake) are optimistic.  Only Adam & Dog has a sense of pathos, but even that had a note of hope when Dog joins Adam & Eve on their journey out of Paradise.

And now, my prediction for the Best Animated Short Film:


I was so taken and enchanted by the mix of whimsy and joy in Paperman that I just fell for it.  It is curious that Paperman falls into the 'animation is for kid's only' business, having premiered with Wreck-It-Ralph, but I wonder whether kids would have responded to it the way adults would.  Certainly a love story (which is what Paperman is) wouldn't really mix well with children. Then again with the exception of The Longest Daycare I'd say none of the nominated shorts are for children.  It's just a strange world and ridiculous mindset: animated shorts are for 'children' but  animated shorts require a greater level of intelligence than children have.

Here is how I would rank the nominees:

Adam & Dog
The Longest Daycare
Fresh Guacamole
Head Over Heels

Well, thus we wrap up my predictions for the Live-Action and Animated Short Film Oscar nominees.  It's just a shame that modern audiences have to sit through promos for Rizzoli & Isles and ads to get women to buy bigger boobs rather than such work as Paperman or Curfew on a regular basis.  It is because film companies simply do not trust modern audiences to be intelligent enough to appreciate those type of films.  I am not stupid, and I do not believe the audiences are stupid either.  They just are treated as such by those who make movies.  People would be surprised to see something like Asad or Adam & Dog popping up before Insidious or Grown Ups, but as I've often said, it's up to US the audience to rally towards good to great films like Argo or Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry and reject things like Ghost Rider and the remake of Planet of the Apes.

Really, the choice is ours. 

Now, I think I might just cover all the other Oscar categories and provide my own predictions.  Maybe, maybe not.                  

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