I've just come from the IFC Theatre (the Waverly in days gone by when it was a neighborhood house), where they were showing, as they have in recent years, the Oscar-Nominated Short Films Programs for the Year. I always go to see the Animated program, and this year was no exception -- fail to see them here, and I might never see most of them on a theater screen.
This year, there were two surprises. There were no entries for the National Film Board of Canada, for decades a sure provider of superior ..... well, cartoons. This year, none. The other surprise was that all of the entries, the six actual nominees and the three added to bring the program up to 83 minutes, were worth watching.
the first one shown was Dear Basketball, a love letter written, narrated and produced by Kobe Bryant to the sport he has graced for some years now. He has gotten Glen Keane to direct it, which means to animate it, and Mr. Keane has chosen to animate it as a pencil test. It's a brilliant idea.
For those unfamiliar with the term, a pencil test is usually an intermediate stage in hand-drawn animation: before the inkers and colorists and backgrounders get their hands on the cartoon, the animator (that is to say, the senior animator assigned to direct a portion of a movie) draws several of the shots within a sequence and arranges them as a flip book to test out the motion; should that work, it goes to his assistants to do the interior sequences, to smooth out the details, to ink them in, and so forth. Keane and his assistant have left this at the flip book stage, rendering it an impressionist work, a contemplation of motion and grace, and it works wonderfully. Then they got John Williams to do the score.
Next up was Negative Space, a French entry. How do fathers and sons connect? Is it by playing games? By hugging? To this day, I'm not sure how my father and I ever did it, although we did.... I'd like to think so, anyway. I know after I spoke at my father's memorial service (and my brother didn't), he smiled and said "That's who he was to you." In this animated short, a father and son connect by the father, a traveling salesman, teaching his son how to do something very important to him: pack a suitcase well.
The piece is a trifle about trifles, yet anyone who has ever cared deeply about another individual will tell you that it's not the big things that matter, but the trifles that no one else notices that gets you through, the secrets out in the open. I'm not certain how much the visual choices add to this short -- animating it as a computer-derived claymation piece is odd. The choices don't really have time to affect the impact, as it is short enough to maintain its impact.
I hadn't seen Pixar's LOU before because I didn't see Cars 3. It's fine, but it struck me as a a sequel..... to Toy Story, exploring one of the themes, sweetly and expertly and had I not seen TS, I would have been very impressed. However, I have.
Revolting Rhymes Part One (2016) was the longest of the Oscar-nominated animated films for 2018 and I firmly believe the best. Based on a book by Roald Dahl with illustration by Quentin Blake, it is the best film version of any Roald Dahl work I have ever seen. There is little doubt that Dahl was a brilliant, mean, sick man, and whenever you look at an adaptation of his work, there comes a point at which there is a clear wobbling and a sense of "No, let's not go there, shall we? Let's just make farting noises. That will make the kiddies laugh."
Mr. Dahl went there. Mr. Dahl went there, and said "Hans Christian Anderssen went there, and so did the Brothers Grimm. And how do you like the venison, Mr. Disney?" This story that combines Red Riding Hood, Snow White, the Three Little Pigs, bank fraud, horse-race fixing, and a nice little revenge drama" as narrated by the uncle of the Big Bad Wolves is a constant black-humor delight. I see that Revolting Rhymes Part Two is listed on the IMDb. I have high hopes.
Garden Party: In a deserted villa, frogs leap about the pool and grounds, entering the kitchen, bumping against switches, gradually revealing what has happened.
If there was a "best technical animation" Oscar, this would get it. The entire movie, in retrospect, was created in a computer, yet created with a photorealism that even now I find confounding. Yet I am left with the question: is animation what is left over when you are done photographing what is happening in the real world? I find that too all-encompassing to be useful, resulting in the vast majority of special effects in the history of cinema being animation. Something inside me whispers that animation must somehow be about content.... not about trick photography that could have been done by the Disney Organization in their True-Life Adventures in the 1960s, or even photographed by Len Powers for Hal Roach's Dippy-doo-dads in the early 1920s.
Or maybe I'm just a stick-in-the-mud arguing that they didn't do things that way in my day, by cracky. It's not the story that is revealed. I'm a big boy and I've seen worse things. I just don't think it's an animated story, even if they tell it that way.
Lost Property Office The man on the desk at the Lost & Found office at the railway station is told that no one wants that junk, so they don't want him.
This wasn't nominated for the 2018, but was included in the Oscar-Nominated Shorts show, and the reasons why are clear. It's arty -- monochrome in sepia -- it's from a country that had no nominations -- Australia -- and, well, it's quirky and amusing in an antiquarian way. I've just gone through a patch of rereading Avram Davidson, a man who was so erudite that he had to invent empires in 19th Europe to warehouse his ideas. I've never read a piece of his that involved a Lost & Found office, which strikes me as just peculiar, but then everything about Davidson was peculiar, although charmingly so, and far more colorful than this sepia effort.
Which, however, I enjoyed greatly and recommend to you. As I do Mr. Davidson's writing. Although I advise you, when reading him, to read him aloud. Silent, he makes no sense. Aloud, well, that's precisely how people talk.
Weeds Seeing its fellow dandelions struck down by weedkiller, a lone survivor uproots itself and struggles across the dry concrete towards the next well-watered lawn.
This was another of the "recommended" shorts added to bring the Oscar-Nominated Animated Shorts of 2018 up to full length. At 3 minutes, it seems a bare trifle, but it is a lovely little tale of struggle and hope and despair. It's writer-director Kevin Hudson's first credit in both those lines -- he's moved up through the animation ranks, but he knows how to bring a basic, understandable character to a common weed. Let's hope he grows and continues to do well in what has always been a difficult branch of the film-making industry to prosper in.
Achoo was the last film shown in the Oscar-nominated animation shorts 2018 program and it was --- fun. I'm an old guy and I grew up with Fleischer cartoons and Looney Tunes and Woody Woodpecker: cartoons. They were created for kids, but they were done by adults who knew that the people in charge weren't really watching, so they did things that amused themselves. Even on TV, they didn't watch too closely for a while, and Rocky & Bullwinkle were a lot of fun to make. They were a lot of fun to watch, too Then the adults got into the mix, and no one wanted to spend any money, so we got cheap, tired stuff, even from the people who used to make stuff that amused themselves. I stopped watching those when I realized they were no fun.
Achoo is the story about a dragon trying to win a contest to impress a bunch of human by inhaling a lot of powder and doing something interesting, only he's allergic to it. And if we were being serious and adult about this, we'd have a lecture about how allergies are crippling and sixty zillion people die a year from them. But this is a cartoon, and Achoo is a cartoon dragon, so the people who made this felt free to make something that amused them. And you know what? I had a great time watching it!
Life's too short to sit on our rears watching other people's work.
— Bob Fells