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Short on Time, Long on Vision: The 2006 Academy Award Nominated Animated Short Films

From "The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello"
by U.J. Lessing

On Sunday, March 5, the wrong movie went home with the Oscar, but this is an Academy Awards controversy without racist gay cowboys driving into each other. You probably watched complacently as Chicken Little and Abby Mallard (voiced by Zach Braff and Joan Cusack) waddled up on stage on that alluring night, in front of Hollywood and a massive TV audience, and slighted the most deserving movie. I too, watched the little bullion naked guy go to the wrong movie.

Cartoon pathos trumped animated virtuosity; only I didn’t know it then.

The upset wasn’t well publicized. You won’t hear Annie Proulx whining about this upset in The Guardian. You won’t find any long, rambling essays analyzing the Hollywood mentality. No buzz. Just silence.

Let’s face it. Hardly any of the people in the audience of that crowded theater, or sitting in living rooms watching the awards on television for that matter, had seen any of the films nominated for the Academy Award for Animated Short Film.

We know these films only from little five-second snippets in the ceremony itself, but these shorts have a lot to offer. In their short running times, some of them accomplished more than their feature length counterparts.

Fortunately for us, Magnolia Pictures has compiled five of these films for us to see, and have even thrown a Bill Plympton cartoon into the mix for good measure. Take my advice, and check out these startling morsels of filmmaking. All of them are worth seeing, and some even transcend the art of filmmaking itself. On to the shorts!

The Moon and the Son: An Imagined Conversation

(28 minutes) (United States) (Winner 2006 Academy Award for Best Animated Short)

Filmmaker John Canemaker uses his frustrating and damaged relationship with his abusive, deceased father as a springboard for this animated essay. Canemaker creates a fictional conversation with his problematic father using archived newspapers, simple cartoony animation, and old homemade films to create a continuously flowing work.

Perhaps if Dr. Seuss and Tex Avery had become family therapists and opened a practice together, the results would have been similar. The animation does have a tendency to sabotage the story. Too often, Canemaker attempts to insert an image to match the dialogue, and this creates a juxtaposition of serious emotion and wacky cartoonishness that sabotages the story’s honesty.

However, the film’s honesty drives this amazing work past these imperfections. The emotions, narrative and text (voiced beautifully by Eli Wallach and John Turturro) are all devastatingly genuine, and this integrity makes “The Moon and the Son” the bravest film in this collection. **** Worth a Look


(7 minutes) (United Kingdom)

The underachiever of the group, “Badgered” tells the story of a badger whose nap is disrupted first by a couple of shrill mindless crows and later by the intrusion of a tactical missile into his hill.

There’s really not a whole lot to this enjoyable, but forgettable fluff. The animation is pleasant, and the outcome is unexpected and fun, but don’t look for anything significant or thought provoking.

“Badgered” appears to come from the British tradition of anthropomorphizing a cute animal, keeping the little guy mute, and giving him a gentle but unyielding challenge. The film is cute, benign and agreeably executed. *** Average


(11 minutes) (United States)

Shane Acker’s homage to Jan Svankmajer and the Brothers Quay, the film’s subject is decline and deterioration. Nothing lives in this urban wasteland except two numbered burlap dolls and a beast made of metal and bone out to steal their souls.

The animation is sharp and the character design is extraordinary. Perhaps when the materialistic society presented in Terry Gilliam’s Brazil collapses, these creatures will crawl out of the dust.

The theme of life escaping desolation is strong, vibrant and exciting. Sadly, it’s over too soon, and the ending feels hurried. According to the film’s official website, Focus Features plans on developing “9” into a feature. Let’s hope the wonderful dreams that fuel this gem are enough to sustain a full-length movie. **** Worth a Look

One Man Band

(4 minutes) (United States)

“One Man Band” was not made available to me for screening. However, Magnolia’s web page has the following summary: “With one coin to make a wish at the piazza fountain, a peasant girl encounters two street performers who’d prefer the coin find its way into their tip jars. Produced by Pixar.”

Sounds pretty lightweight to me. All of Pixar’s shorts tent to be charming and whimsical. I wonder if they will ever try to produce a short with a little more weight. Not Reviewed

The Fan and the Flower

(7 minutes) (United States)

“The Fan and the Flower” was not nominated for an Academy Award, but it is a beautiful piece of animation. The film’s simple line and shadow animation conveys a sentimental story, and fortunately Bill Plympton, an animator who tends to throw everything on the screen, keeps it simple.

The story would make a wonderful children’s book. Paul Giamatti narrates this story about a fleeting romance between a ceiling fan and a flower. Both objects reside in the guest room of an old woman’s house. The story is touching, the animation is gentle, and the conclusion is tender, stirring, and on the ball.

“The Fan and the Flower” is not as important as Plympton’s earlier efforts, but it is one of the most moving films to come from this original animator in quite some time. **** Worth a Look

The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello

(27 minutes) (Australia)

One part adventure story, one part personal journey, one part gothic horror story, and one hundred percent masterpiece, “The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello” is a miracle of storytelling and one of the most stunning animated films ever made. This is the film that truly deserved the Oscar this year.

The film takes us to a future where flying machines and smoky haze dominate the sky. The population is in chaos as a violent plague takes victim after victim. Living in this hell is navigator Jasper Morello, a mild airman stricken with guilt after his mistake plunges a fellow shipmate overboard.

Morello finds himself assigned to a science vessel. It’s the chance that he’s been waiting for. But the mission takes on a weight and importance that Morello does not anticipate: a chance to save his city, his beloved, and his own humanity.

This may be a futuristic story, but its style and substance is firmly rooted in the 19th century with elements and themes from Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Robert Louis Stevenson, Jules Verne and Edgar Allen Poe.

Animator Anthony Lucas deftly tells this amazing story using a variety of techniques including computer graphics, miniatures and what appear to be shadow puppets. The result is a stunning synthesis of innovative animation and smart storytelling. In 27 minutes, this film accomplishes more than most feature films dare. ***** Masterpiece

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originally posted: 04/07/06 09:11:17
last updated: 11/05/07 11:08:16
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