This year marks the 80th anniversary of the Oscar for animated short film: The first honoree was Walt Disney’s Silly Symphony “Flowers and Trees,” the first animated film made with the three-strip Technicolor process. Eight decades later, the nominees represent a visually diverse but thematically unified crop, each centering on young men or boys in curious situations.
Pixar artist Enrico Casarosa’s “La Luna” is a gently magical account of a little boy who has to navigate between the conflicting advice offered by his father and grandfather to discover his own way of doing things. While its lyrical flying sequences and vision of a moon covered with glowing crystal stars reflect the influence of the Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki, the lush visuals and polished animation attest to the skill of the Pixar artists.
Canadian animator Patrick Doyon employs minimal, cartoony drawings and a palette limited to grays, tans and olive greens to recount an apparently ordinary day for a quiet little boy in “Dimanche/Sunday.” The unnamed protagonist gets dragged to church and to his grandmother’s house by his oddly shaped relatives, leaves coins on the nearby railroad to be flattened by the trains and has a very disturbing encounter with a stuffed bear’s head (which turns out be attached to the rest of the bear).
A MORNING STROLL
In British nominee “A Morning Stroll,” Grant Orchard juxtaposes increasingly complex visual styles to depict the same events repeated at 50-year intervals. In 1959, simple line figures depict a man strolling through New York City and seeing a chicken out for a walk. In 2009, the same actions involve more detailed colored figures; in a post-apocalyptic 2059, three-dimensional figures re-enact the events. In contrast to the lyricism of “La Luna,” “A Morning Stroll” recalls the gross-out humor of Don Hertzfeldt’s short films.
Also from Canada, Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby use the eccentric orbit of a comet as a metaphor for the eccentric behavior of a young man who leaves England for the Canadian wilderness in “Wild Life.” The man’s efforts to establish a ranch on the plains near Alberta in 1909 prove less than successful. Forbis and Tilby juggle scenes of the man pretending to work with his neighbors’ comments and musical interludes. The calligraphic look of some sequences recalls Tilby’s previously nominated paint-on-glass film “Strings.”
THE FANTASTIC FLYING BOOKS OF MR. MORRIS LESSMORE
The longest and most elaborate of the nominees, “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore” by William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg, reverses a familiar motif from “The Wizard of Oz”: A powerful gale carries a bespectacled man from his hotel balcony in a multi-colored world to the flatlands of a black-and white one. But connecting with books brings color to the denizens of the otherwise monotonous world. Joyce is a noted children’s book illustrator, and the film benefits from his familiar visual style.
Rescue efforts get big reward
“A Cat in Paris” | “Chico & Rita” | “Kung Fu Panda 2” | “Puss in Boots” | “Rango”