Saturday, March 17, 2012

Best Animated Short - 2004

We've come to it at last: the most recent year with a Best Animated Short that I haven't seen. You'd think the older shorts would be harder to find, but all of them are studio films, like Disney or MGM or Warner Bros., so almost all of them are readily available. (Although the archiving of Columbia films before 1945 is a complete disaster. There is even one that is considered lost, so my goal of watching all of the Oscar nominated shorts will most likely end in complete failure.) Things are different when the missing short is under the firm control of one of the most suppressive corporations out there: Disney. While older Disney shorts leak out constantly, some of their newer shorts are under more security than some of our national secrets. It's probably easier to find out the truth of Area 51 than it is to watch the two missing shorts that Disney has condemned to eternal purgatory. And it is fans of great animation that suffer as a result.
Birthday Boy 
Korea 1951. A young boy plays in the ruins of a crashed plane in a near-deserted town. He finds a screw and puts it on a train track to magnetize them when a train carrying tanks come driving by. He plays with his new magnet for a while before pretending to attack an imaginary enemy while real gunshots ring out. He goes home after inadvertently causing an accident, and finds a present from his father. After all, it is his birthday. This effective Korean-Australian anti-war film doesn't use scene of bloody battles to get its message across. Rather, it opts for a more subtle approach, showing the young protagonist at play surrounded by mementos of war. It is no less effective, and makes it somewhat of a difficult film to watch. The animation for the war-ravaged landscape is stunning, which adds to the film's atmosphere. The human animation, however, leaves more to be expected, and the main character is somewhat on the annoying side. However, this is a very good effort.  
Where Can I Watch It?

Gopher Broke
A hungry gopher looking for food finds his way to a road for trucks carrying their wares to the Farmer's Market. The resourceful gopher builds a hole hoping to knock food off of the passing trucks. The plan succeeds, but other hungry animals get to it first. He destroys the farmer's market sign in anger, only to see that it results in broken nails. Surely he can get some food this time. This little short from visual effect company Blur Studio is quite funny, but it falls just short of charming. The problem is with the gopher. He is quick thinking and resourceful, but he is also one of the most annoying main characters in an Oscar nominated short, with his goofy expression and his penchant for doing a crazy dance. His situation is one that should elicit sympathy: a clever character who never quite gets what he wants, but he is so annoying that rather than feeling sorry for the guy we laugh at his misery. Maybe that is what Blur Studios wants. As far as the rest of the short, the sound and animation are adequate, but its not at Pixar. 
Where Can I Watch It?

Guard Dog
Bill Plympton has cemented his place in the animation annals for his distinctive colored-pencil style and dark and off-kilter but frequently funny themes. This short tries to explain why dogs bark so often at anything they see. A dog goes on a walk with his owner. The protective but paranoid pooch imagines that every living being they come across harbors evil plans directed against his master. These evil plans make up the bulk of the short, and they get more and more absurd, but more and more hilarious. The animation is also distinctly Plympton, from his relatively detailed colored-pencil style to the relatively realistic character design. I especially liked how the dog does more bouncing than walking. It's a great introduction to the weirdly wonderful world of Plymptoons. It's no wonder that Guard Dog has become one of his more popular films, launching a series of similar shorts starring the same rolly polly canine, and also becoming the subject of an experimental project where different animators remake the film shot by shot. 
Where Can I Watch It?
Sadly, eBaumsworld is the best that I can do.

This is it: the short that Disney refuses to release. Around a decade ago, Disney employees unearth a pair of films that were put in hiatus during World War II. One was Destino, a film that marked a collaboration between Disney and Salvador Dali. The other was Lorenzo. Destino was completed first and released in 2003. Lorenzo came out a year later, attached to the mediocre Kate Hudson film Raising Helen. It was loved by the animation critics, many of whom predicted it would go on to win the Oscar. In the end, it lost. I assume that Disney was so ashamed by the short's failure to win the Oscar that they cursed it and banished it to the furthest reaches of its vaults, where it can join fellow Oscar loser Redux Riding Hood in wasting away. It's quite a pity, since Disney had left a short trailer on YouTube so they can taunt animation fans like me that skipped out on Raising Helen. The film, about a proud cat in love with his big furry tail that comes to life, looks incredible. Its got stylish backgrounds and character design that give the film a nightmarish quality. And 'nightmare' is a good word to describe the film, as Lorenzo is a nightmare not only for the main character, but for animation fans like me who just might go to the grave without ever seeing it leave its Disney-sanctioned purgatory.
Where Can I Watch It?
Please let me know. I'll pay you money.

As much as we Americans like to make fun of Canada, there's no denying that it's been one of the hotbeds of quality animation these past 60 years. So many excellent animators have come from Canada: Norman McLaren, Grant Munro, Wolf Koenig, and Ryan Larkin. Larkin is the subject of this film by Oscar nominated animator Chris Landreth. Once upon a time, Larkin was a promising director in the late 1960 and early 1970s who made films such as the Oscar nominated Walking (1969) before falling into a chasm of drug abuse, alcoholism, and eventual obscurity. Landreth tracks down Larkin and those who knew him. He edited his conversations and animated it to produce this short, which explores Larkin's successes and failures, drug abuse, and hope to rise out of his conditions. The film uses both animation, photographs, and scenes from Larkin's earlier works. The most striking thing about the film is that despite its realistic animation of people (which Landreth showed off in his previous Oscar nominated film), it includes an outward representations of the personal demons and brokenness of the characters, including Landreth himself. The film is successful in reviving interest in a great animator that had become forgotten over the years, but the ending felt flat. I could tell it was trying to make a point about Ryan's future, but I felt the film never puts the pieces together to form a satisfactory whole. It just ends, and that makes it somewhat disappointing.
Where Can I Watch It?

It's going to be hard for me to judge the nominees from this year, as I have yet to see one of them. And it's too bad since from the trailer Lorenzo looks to be the best. (Darn you, Disney!) Out of the ones I've seen, Ryan is clearly the best in quality (which is appropriate since it's the winner), although Guard Dog is my favorite.

My rankings (quality)
Ryan > Guard Dog > Birthday Boy > Gopher Broke

My rankings (preference)
Guard Dog > Gopher Broke > Ryan > Birthday Boy

1 comment:

  1. Certainly there are moments wheN I wanted "Gopher Broke" to not be as annoying as the character contained (perhaps like something out of a Chuck Jones cartoon).

    I know one of the guys involved in the experimental "Guard Dog" project, and it's pretty interesting to see how well popular the character became over the years, though I didn't particularly saw the original film or had much interest in Plympton's work as of late, but I'm sure I'm not missing much.

    I recall the days I had pondered whether to see "Lorenzo" or not when "Raising Helen" was in the theaters, and whether or not I would leave once the short was done (which seems to be what a few others had done I noticed)? I the end, I didn't see to spending the 7 or 8 bucks to see a short film I regret to this day. It's a shame they couldn't see to stick it on a DVD at all. Of course there's plenty of other unseen Disney films over the past few decades that would fill up a DVD set perfectly like "Off His Rockers" or "Oilspot & Lipstick". At least "Destino" managed to make it on Blu-ray recently.

    It's true to argue that Ryan's conclusion could've been more satsifying than leaving you with nothing. After the film's win, Ryan Larkin did try to get back into animating again, but it yielded several animated ID's for MTV Canada just before his death in 2007 due to lung cancer.