I have always loved the Oscars. For years I hosted an Oscar Party, one where we actually watched the Oscars intently and filled out prediction ballots. The winners never missed more than 3.
I no longer host the party, but I still try to see all of the best picture nominees and fill out a ballot. Lewis helps, as he can usually predict the more technical categories, while I have higher accuracy in the acting and costume categories.
Until the last few years, we had both been at a loss on the short films. Thankfully, our one art house theater, the Bijou, found a way to premier them, each year looking more and more polished. This year the Academy produced a series of features hosted by last year’s winners in the short categories, animation, live action, and documentary. (Maybe they had been doing that for years, but this is the first we’ve seen of it.)
As I sat in the dark watching the largely silent animated shorts splash across the screen I felt nourished. Last year’s winners, Brandon Oldenberg and William Joyce, the team responsible for the edifying flight of fancy that is “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore,” spoke ebulliently on the freedom of the short form.
The delight of being able to take an idea, and simply do it. Without having to pass it through the layers of execs and producers, but to simply take and idea straight to film.
They also talked about how, with animation, the act of creation is total and infinite. They create a world to meet the needs of their story. A world that in many ways is the story.
So in many ways, animated shorts are the purest form of expression available to the film medium. They are not bound by length (this year’s nominees ranged from 2 minutes to 16. One of the highly commended shorts was 23 minutes, and aired in the UK as a kids telly show). They are not bound by gravity or the human form. Or the fact that animals don’t talk. They are not bound by marketability.
One would expect the result to be dark. Unfiltered spewing of twisted fantasies and/or neurosis. Maybe those shorts get made, and the Academy just hates them. But the ones that end up nominated, far from being dark or depraved are usually whimsical, touching, empathetic, or victorious. I teared up watching more animated shorts than best picture nominees. They touched a place in my soul not often touched by big productions. A place reserved for honest, tiny moments.
The Paperman (winner), animates a series of ill-fated paper planes to bring a boy and a girl together on a train platform. The planes move in a distinctly Disney way, that fans of “Sleeping Beauty” will recognize as the work of Flora, Fauna, and Merriwether.
Adam and Dog (my personal favorite) is stunning. The watercolor background and unapologetically primitive figures tell the story of how man’s best friend became so.
Fresh Guacamole is two minutes of straight up fun with wordplay and stop motion antics.
Maggie Simpson in the Longest Daycare is vintage Simpsons, with the kind of twist that makes it vintage animated short. The hopeful little twist at the end is a salute to the power of animation, in my opinion.
Head Over Heals is the kind of thing they need to show in pre-marital counseling. This short would preach. It’s the endearing claymation of our hearts on the days when we feel like our partner lives in a different world.
If you can watch all of those and not feel that your day has seriously improved then you may just have to start drinking.