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Review: Oscar-Nominated Shorts

Animated and Live Action Shorts Open at Landmark

Credit: Geefwee Boedoe

Above: "Let's Pollute," one of the animated shorts nominated for an Oscar this year.


Spike of Spike and Mike talks about the Oscar-nominated shorts.


Among the Oscar nominees for best animated short this year is "Let's Pollute," a film showcased by the San Diego based Spike and Mike: A New Generation. All the nominated shorts -- both animated and live action -- will be showcased this week at Landmark's Ken Cinema.

Since 1977, Spike and Mike have been highlighting great animation from around the world, many of which nab Oscar nominations for best animated short. So San Diegans are lucky to get a first look at some of theses awards contenders thanks to Spike and Mike's devoted efforts to bring quality animation to town. Most recently, audiences had a chance to see "Let's Pollute at the Next Generation Festival. Festival director Spike Decker says he was not surprised to see Geefwee Boedoe's "Let's Pollute" get an Oscar nod.

"His character design, his story, his humor, his timing is perfect," says Spike, "I just didn't know if someone would find fault with the obvious environmental issue, which sometimes falls into a political arena."

"Let's Pollute" uses the format of a 50s-style educational film to draw attention to environmental issues. The animation has a deliberately crude, hand drawn style and the tone is cheerfully ironic as it blasts people and corporations for being so disrespectful of the world around them.

The Oscar heavyweight among the five nominees is "Day and Night" from Teddy Newton and Disney-Pixar. The short played before "Toy Story 3" and that gives it a big push because unlike so many short films, millions have seen it. Unfortunately, it is the weakest entry in the list of five nominees.

Spike and Mike have been highlighting shorts from Pixar for years. Pixar's John Lasseter has had his animated shorts "Luxor, Jr." and "Tin Toy"screen at previous Spike and Mike festivals of animation. Those films then went on to receive Oscar nominations.

Oscar nominations can be very important to an animated short's future says Spike, "It will definitely get shown more. It gives the individual animator a great opportunity in the job market, what then can come out of it like a first look deal and can be developed out of that sort into features, series, etc."

Lasseter's short "Tin Toy" eventually became "Toy Story," and the third installment of the franchise will be competing for gold on February 27th. So there's a chance both the short and the feature from Disney-Pixar will walk away winners.

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Passion Pictures

"The Lost Thing"

But my favorite short from this year's nominations is "The Lost Thing" from director Andrew Ruhemann and writer Shaun Tan. Tan is the man responsible for the eloquent and wordless book "The Arrival" and you can sense his influence on this story of a boy who finds a bizarre creature that looks something like a machine with tentacles. He soon discovers that this odd thing is lost so he tries to find out who owns it or where it belongs. Watching this beguiling and sweet-natured British-Australian co-production made me wonder if there are really cultural differences in how filmmakers approach animation. I rarely see short films from the U.S. that manage to muster this kind of tone and artistry in an animated short. American shorts are often spectacular in their state of the art technology but are less likely to have the artistry of some foreign shorts. Similarly the types of stories tend to be relegated to kiddie stories or crass humor, and therefore tend to lack real depth of emotion and mature themes. I say this knowing that there are always exceptions (Spike and Mike always seem to find those exception), but on the whole it's the foreign shorts that tend to push the boundaries in terms of artistry and storytelling while the Americans blow us away with technology.

But back to "The Lost Thing," it is an exquisitely told tale, rich in detail, glorious design, and tender emotions.

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Magic Light Pictures

Robbie Coltrane gives voice to an imaginary creature that proves to be quite real in "The Gruffalo."

Less dazzling and subtle but no less entertaining is "The Gruffalo" from Jakob Schuh and Max Lange. This one packed the most star power with Helena Bonham Carter, John Hurt, Tom Wilkinson, and Robbie Coltrane providing vocal talent. It's a cleverly animated tale of a little mouse that cleverly outwits a trio of predators by creating a monster that turns out to be more real that he expected. The character design on the animals is delightful with great expression, and the story is charming.

Displaying some breathtaking artistry is "Madagascar: Carnet de Voyage," a kind of animated travel diary from France's Bastien Dubois. A journal chronicling a trip literally opens to reveal a beautifully animated trip through both the customs and the landscape of Madagascar.

Rounding out the program is Bill Pympton's "The Cow Who Wanted to be a Hamburger," a film not nominated but listed as "Highly Commended." It should have been on the list of nominees instead of "Day and Night." It's a very different style from Plympton's usual animation, and it's hilarious.

Tune in on February 27 to see which of these animated shorts win. You can also see the live action nominated shorts at the Ken, but they are far less impressive than the animation.

Spike Decker will be doing a book signing on February 12 at 7pm at D.G. Wills Books in La Jolla, and showing about an hour of Sick and Twisted animated shorts. The book is "Outlaw Animation: Cutting-Edge Cartoons from the Spike and Mike Festivals" and offers a kind of history of the festivals through the cartoons.

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