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Toon shorts offer innovative views

Nominees available on iTunes and in theaters

Although all five of this year’s toon short nominees are primarily computer animated, the filmmakers each use the medium in distinctly imaginative and innovative ways. All five Academy selections are available to screen on iTunes and in theaters, courtesy of Shorts Intl. and Magnolia Pictures.

“Day & Night”
Teddy Newton’s upbeat “Day & Night” received the widest exposure of the group, as it screened in front of Pixar’s “Toy Story 3.” Newton cleverly juxtaposes 2D and 3D visuals: Simple characters representing opposite halves of the day are resolutely two-dimensional, but peering through them like a pair of open keyholes, the audience sees 3D landscapes. The flat look of the characters recalls ’50s design and contrasts imaginatively with the contemporary 3D imagery. “Day & Night” is the ninth Pixar short to be nominated since the ground-breaking “Luxo, Jr.” (The studio has won three times.)

“Let’s Pollute”
An alum of Pixar and Disney, writer-director Geefwee Boedoe also uses 1950s graphics that reflect the stylistic innovations of the UPA Studio in his mock-didactic film “Let’s Pollute.” The characters and their vehicles are flat outlines with minimal touches of color. Accompanied by retro narration and music, they exhort viewers to join in America’s ongoing orgy of waste: Buy over-packaged things you don’t need, eat processed foods, never repair or recycle or reuse. The message is ironically couched in the vocabulary of a Eisenhower-era educational film.

“The Gruffalo”
“The Gruffalo” by Max Lang and Jakob Schuh is based on a popular children’s book written by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Axel Scheffler. Threatened in turn by a fox, an owl and a snake, a clever mouse talks his way out of trouble by referring to his friendship with the monstrous title character — only to be confronted by the very beast he thought he’d invented. Fortunately, the mouse never loses his ability to think on his feet. Commissioned for British TV, “The Gruffalo” benefits from an A-list vocal cast that includes Helena Bonham Carter, John Hurt and Robbie Coltrane. The simple designs, backgrounds and stylized animation reflect the influence of Aardman Animations’ stop-motion “Wallace and Gromit” films.

“The Lost Thing”
“The Lost Thing” by Andrew Ruhemann and Shaun Tan evokes stop-motion animation in CG. A nerdy young man (he’s extremely proud of his bottle-cap collection) stumbles across a weird creature, part-animal and part-machine, on the beach and befriends it. When their pleasant afternoon ends, there’s nowhere for the Thing to go. The kid’s parents won’t let him keep the Thing, and he refuses to consign it to an impersonal government storage facility. Like its subject, this odd, misfit production became something of a passion project for London’s Passion Pictures (responsible for the Gorillaz musicvideos).

“Madagascar”
Bastien Dubois’ “Madagascar, carnet de voyage” is exactly what its title suggests: a series of vignettes and sketches (brought magically to life through animation) that reflect the artist’s visit to the island. The filmmaker takes the audience from the gritty chaos of decrepit urban neighborhoods to the surprisingly cheerful, rum-laced rituals of a rural funeral. Dubois blends stop-motion, CG, processed live action and drawn artwork, often combining media in surprising ways to create striking evocations of Madagascar’s people, plants and landscapes, shaping it all into a virtual scrapbook from his trip.

More on Eye on the Oscar: Animation:
Toons get animated start | Annie voters see light of ‘Day’ | Characters rigged to tell emotional tale | Toon shorts offer innovative views

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