Saturday, March 10, 2012
Best Animated Short - 2006
We come now to 2006, the first year that I had successfully seen all of the nominees. Unfortunately, it came shortly after the Oscar ceremony. I had became interested in the Best Animated Short category back in late 2005 or early 2006, but those early days were spent trying to watch all of the winners. It wasn't until 2007 that I had started to include the nominees as well. I had known that most of the winners were readily accessible, but I had soon found out that the majority of the nominees are easy to find as well. As I said in my last entry, I got from all the way up to 87% after only a year*. was pretty much able to find all of the nominees on either YouTube or iTunes. It's just getting to that 100% that is difficult. Anyways, most of the nominees should be available online. I hope that these reviews are getting you interested in looking up these nominees and seeing them yourself.
*Although to be fair, my baseline was not 0%. I had seen most of the winners, and a lot of the earlier Disney/Warner Bros/Tom & Jerry cartoons from growing up. I'd have to estimate I had seen about 95/302 of the nominees, or about 31.4%. Still, 56% of the nominees in one year isn't bad.
The Danish Poet
Serendipity - the process of discovering something good by accident. The first time I heard that word came in sixth grade when I was at a talk delivered by Newbery award winner Paul Fleishmann. He was talking about the events that inspired him to become a writer, but now that I think of it, just being alive is an act of serendipity. It's not simply the entire act of fertilization of the right egg and the right sperm (although it does apply. If a different sperm fertilized my mother's egg that day in 1984, I'd be a fat and ugly female instead of a fat and ugly male.) It also applies to the events surrounding how one's parents met, which is often the result of chance. That idea was touched upon in a popular commercial, but it was explored more fully in this Norweigan/Canadian film. The film opens with a woman talking about the role of chance in our births, and then goes into the tale of a Danish poet who had lost his inspiration. He is told to go to Norway, where he happens to meet and fall in love with a farmer's daughter. Unfortunately, she is engaged to be married to somebody else, but before they part, she promises that she won't cut her hair until they meet again. This begins a chain of events that ends with the woman's parents meeting. The composition of the movie is certainly interesting. After the introduction, the story veers in a completely random direction before wrapping up in the end. It may be disconcerting, but it was probably appropriate given the film's theme of randomness. The structure didn't really bother me, as the tale of the Danish Poet is filled with humor, which can at times quite dark. The dark humor is more striking when contrasted with its colorful and rather simple artwork. Of course, all of this - the tangential structure, the simple animation, and the humor - serve to obscure the depth that can be found in the film.
Where Can I Watch It?
The Little Matchgirl
The Little Matchgirl is one of Hans Christian Anderson's more popular stories. It tells the story of a girl trying in vain to sell matches in a cold winter's night. She desperately uses some of the matches to keep herself warm. She begins to see images of a Christmas tree and a warm feast. Finally she sees her late grandmother, who takes her spirit to Heaven. The tragic but heartwarming tale resonated with readers for well over a century. Columbia Studios adapted the story into a short film back in 1937 which was nominated for Best Animated Short (which I'll get to in, I dunno, about 20 years.) Almost 70 years later, Disney remade the film that was more faithful to the original Anderson story than the Columbia version, except that the location was moved from Anderson's native Denmark to Russia. This change doesn't diminish the story's emotional impact. The juxtaposition of the girl's joyous hallucinations and her frigid reality is as heartbreaking as you would expect. Furthermore, even though the film is set in Russia, the girl looks like she's Asian. Everybody else looks European, even the girl's grandmother, but the girl still appears like she's from somewhere in East or Southeast Asia. This serves not only to set the girl apart from her surroundings, but for me it adds an extra layer of emotion, being Asian myself. The storytelling of this version is also very good. It plays out completely without dialogue, against a piece of classical music from Russian composer Alexander Borodin. The music and the film match up so well that I originally thought it was an original piece of music. The animation, which uses a combination of traditional hand-drawn animation and computer graphics, is also visually stunning. Disney has gotten a bad rap in the past couple of years, but in my opinion The Little Matchgirl is a terrific piece that shows that they still have some quality films left in them.
Where Can I Watch It?
Alien abduction is a popular plot in most science fiction stories. The idea plays on not only the fact that extraterrestrial beings exist, but they play a role in our lives. This short film from Pixar, which played theatrically before Ratatouille five months after being nominated for Best Animated Short (just like La Luna this year), plays upon this idea of alien abduction, but with a slight twist. It plays upon a situation that we've probably all experienced before: when we're facing a test when we just haven't quite prepared enough. In this film a meek little alien is completing a training exercise under the watchful eyes of an emotionless supervision armed with a dreadful clipboard. Compounding the situation, the abduction device is a complicated panel with hundreds of unlabeled switches. Can he pass the test before the break of dawn? This humorous little film marks the directorial debut of legendary sound man Gary Rydstrom, a seven-time Oscar winner who's worked on classics like Terminator 2, Jurassic Park, Titanic, and Saving Private Ryan. He was at the Pixar from the beginning, having did the sound on Luxo Jr. Anways, Rydstrom incorporated much of his experiences as a sound mixer into this film. For instance, the intimidating panel is a play on the similarly intimidating sound mixer's console. Plus, the film sports some nifty sound effects, including the world-famous Wilhelm Scream. However, even though the film has its positives - a humorous story, excellent sound effects - I just didn't find it very memorable. The main character was just a bit too obnoxious for me to identify with. Ultimately it was a good film, but not one of Pixar's best.
Where Can I Watch It?
This charming little short from Hungary shows a mechanical hand in a dressing room helping a tuxedo-wearing songbird getting ready for his big show. That's really about it in terms of story; it's the least story-driven of this year's nominees. Furthermore, the CGI animation effects isn't quite as polished as the works of Pixar or even Blue Sky Studios. However, it stands out because of its near-flawless execution. The film is done entirely in one shot, with the "camera" circling the dressing room, moving in small increments. It's a clever technique that not only serves to add a sense of action, but it also fits well with the film's ending. The background music, which has a Hungarian flair, also plays into the atmosphere. It crescendos at just the right times to add a feeling of urgency, and it also incorporates the ending. The title itself is quite interesting. When I first saw the film I was originally thinking that the film was referring to the songbird, but by the end it was clearly not the case. And I keep talking about the ending, which is one of the best I've seen in an animated short. It ties the film together and adds an extra layer of meaning. It's definitely worth checking out.
Where Can I Watch It?
No Time for Nuts
Scrat, the hapless, nut-loving saber-toothed squirrel, is without a doubt the most iconic character in the popular Ice Age series. (It helps that he's pretty much the sole figure in the sneak preview for the original Ice Age film). His popularity led him to be the star of several Ice Age-themed animated short films, two of which were nominated for the Oscar. This is second of the two. In this film, Scrat is walking around with his beloved acorn when he stumbles across a mysterious item that turns out to be a time machine. The time machine sends the acorn to the future. He follows along frantically but finds himself in the middle of an Arthurian battle. He escapes just in time, but ends up in the middle of a Roman Colosseum. He warps again, but loses track of his acorn friend. To get it back he must undergo a time-bending adventure where he experiences increasingly bizarre situations throughout history. Can our intrepid rodent ever find his acorn and peace? The answer is obviously going to be no, but what happens to him is pretty darned funny. With Scrat you know you're not going to get anything especially deep, but it's a rollicking and fast-paced piece of entertainment nonetheless. It features a lot of visual and situational humor, and a wonderful sequence set in the time stream. And the animation is also excellent. It's well worth watching, especially if you're in the mood for something funny.
Where Can I Watch It?
Now that I've gone through all the films again, 2006 had a lot stronger cast of nominees than I remembered, definitely one of the strongest lineups in recent years. All of the films are good, and even Lifted, my least favorite of the five, has its staunch supporters. (It has the highest IMDb rating of the five nominees, not that it means anything.) I didn't really follow this category before the Oscars, but from my recollection it was Pixar vs. Disney vs. three others, and I hadn't seen any of them. I was a little surprised when one of the three others won, and it was the one with the simplest animation at that. Now that I've seen all of them I know now that The Danish Poet is a great short, and I can see why it won. But The Little Matchgirl was such an amazing experience that I'll forever be disappointed that it didn't win.
My rankings (by quality and preference)
The Little Matchgirl > Maestro > The Danish Poet > No Time for Nuts > Lifted.