a theatre, film & pop culture review
Where’s Pixar? Amazingly, the super-studio doesn’t show up here (what, didn’t they do a short — any short — this year?), but Disney, going solo this time ’round, has brought its game up — way up — a notch with Paperman, which played prior to the Oscar-nominated feature length, Wreck-It Ralph. A light, but exceedingly warm-hearted entry, the 7-minute love story depicts a cute-meet on a train platform: he, tongue-tied, misses his chance as she, all wide-eyed Disney heroine, dashes onto her train. Luckily, through match-making paper-airplanes that dance in the wind — perfectly in synch with Christophe Beck’s whimsical score — they meet again, and happily ever after surely ensues. A mix of glorious 2D and CG animation and the romantic nostalgia of a black-and-white picture, you’ll be reminded of The Artist, intentionally, as well as last year’s short winner. This charmer, by director-animator John Kahrs (Toy Story 2; Monsters, Inc.) is the Annie Award-winning frontrunner and can be viewed here.
If the Academy weren’t so sentimental, it may be rightfully swayed by the dazzling stop-motion of Fresh Guacamole. Director PES (born Adam Pesapane) transformed familiar objects — pin-cushion tomatoes, grenade-avocados, chess-piece salt-shakers — into a deceptively delicious bowl of guac. At 1 minute and 46 seconds, this conceptual stunner is the shortest film ever to be nominated for an Oscar, but despite its winning ingenuity (at a theatre, the audience I was with applauded this piece), it’s a brief, one-trick pony that will largely be viewed as a clever stunt. Watch it here.
Adam and Dog was made in 2011 and won the 2012 Annie for Best Animated Short Subject, so its nomination this year is a bit confusing to me. Nevertheless, the Disney-trained animator Minkyu Lee — he was an apprentice animator on The Princess and the Frog — inspired by a National Geographic article on the origin of dogs, created a hand-drawn short about the relationship between dog and man. The nature backdrops are beautiful in their simplicity: orange-speckled fish swimming in a pond, dog panting amidst lush green foliage, Adam walking through a golden meadow against a rising sun. But in the 16-minute film, not much happens, and the story is tenuous at best: dog meets man, loses man, finds man again. Is he really man’s best friend? (I don’t know: Adam seemed a little too taken with Eve, if you know what I mean.) Its minimalism and ambiguity will likely turn off some voters.
Maggie Simpson in ‘The Longest Daycare” is a cute tale about the young Simpson being denied entrance into the “gifted” daycare program, and exerting all her infant might to save a butterfly from being squashed by creepily unibrowed little boy (apparently you’ll recognize him if you’re a Simpsons fan, but lacking that background knowledge, you’ll feel like you’re missing something). Screened before the feature Ice Age: Continental Drift, it is the only other Annie nominee in the group. While it’ll win traction with voters who are Simpsons diehards (do they still exist?), Maggie isn’t a strong contender.
If Paperman doesn’t walk away with the prize, Head Over Heels will. Timothy Reckart and Fodhla Cronin O’Reilly’s stop-motion claymation is about an older couple who over time have drifted so far apart as to live in opposite gravities: she resides on the ceiling, he on the floor. Interestingly suggesting Amour‘s central couple, which may or may not benefit a win, as well as the style of the Academy favorite, Wallace & Gromit, it’s also an Annie winner this year, garnering the Best Student Film prize. But at 10 minutes, it felt the longest of the bunch, lacking some much-needed buoyancy to both story and animation. Watch it here, and then re-watch Paperman to lift your spirits.