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Oscar Animated Shorts are a mixed bag

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STORY WRITTEN BY NATHAN LERNER/For Digital First Media

There are five films, which are nominated for an Oscar in the category of Best Animated Shorts. Collectively, they add up to a scant 47 minutes. That’s hardly enough to inspire many people to buy a ticket at a price tag commensurate with a feature length film. So, for theatrical release, the Short Movie Channel, which packages the Oscar Nominated Shorts, have tossed in an extra four entities. Even with these additions, all nine still span a mere 82 minutes. Some will consider the marketing of this collection, which includes shorts which haven’t been nominated for an Oscar, to be somewhat disingenuous.

The dialogue-free “Feast” hails from Disney and is directed by Patrick Osborne. It played theatrically as a prelude short on showings of “Big Hero 6.” It starts off with a man feeding a single french fry to an abandoned puppy. The starving canine gobbles up the deep-fried spud. Of course, this portends a close relationship between the dog and his adoptive master. We watch the dog grow and his diet evolve over the years. Eventually, his initial fare of puppy chow is augmented by whatever his owner happens to be eating. Initially, it happens to be the culinary fare of a bachelor, who isn’t particularly concerned with eating in a healthy fashion.  At a subsequent juncture, the man becomes involved with a woman. We witness the results of her unspoken prompts to induce him to adopt a more conscientious diet. The upgraded meals are even accompanied with decorative springs of parsley. The couple have a baby. From his perch in a high chair, the infant becomes the source of human food, tossing it to the floor to the dog’s delight. This short echoes Disney’s rich legacy of animation. The repeated scenes of the dog eating spaghetti and meatballs will evoke memories of the Disney classic, “The Lady and the Tramp.” The extended time span of “Feast” also recalls “Up,” a Disney animated feature, which unfolded over the course of many decades.

Me and My Moulton,” is a Danish film, directed by Torill Kove. This is her third nomination in the category. She previously won in 2007 for “The Danish Poet.” Kove is a native of Denmark, who moved to Canada. Although this is a Canadian production, the film is explicitly set in Norway. Just so you know, a Moulton is a small-wheel bicycle, which is a marvel of engineering. Manufactured in the United Kingdom, it can be collapsed for ease of moving and easily adjusted to accommodate the leg length of different riders. The protagonist/narrator is a young girl, the middle of three sisters. She offers the perspective of a child, not the nostalgic recollections of an adult. She laments the fact that her family is too poor to afford three separate bikes. Will her eccentric parents find a solution? The short had an appealingly whimsical quality.

“The Bigger Picture,” helmed by Daisy Jacobs, focuses on a pair of English brothers. They are taking care of their elderly, ailing mother. The siblings have fundamentally different attitudes towards their dying mom and how to deal with her. The elicits considerable rivalry between the two. Thus is exacerbated by the fact that dear old mom inexplicably favors her negligent son over the more dutiful one. For some, the visual style of “The The Bigger Picture” may prove somewhat disconcerting. It juxtaposes flattened, two dimensional characters into a three-dimensional background.

“A Single Life” from the Netherlands is helmed by Joris Oprins. It involves a woman, who receives a 45 rpm record. When the protagonist places it on the phonograph player, she makes startling discovery. By manipulating the magic record, she can fast forward or reverse her life. It’s only a few minutes long, but teases the notion of the evanescence of life.

The gem of the lot is “The Dam Keeper.” It is directed by Robert Kondo and Daisuke ‘Dice’ Tsutsumi, who are former Pixar art directors. They were hailed for their work on “Toy Story 3” and “Monsters University” respectively. They teamed up to launch their own studio and this represents their first venture. Kondo and Tsutsumi have eschewed CGI in favor of 8,000 beautifully crafted, hand drawn frames. As a consequence, “The Dam Keeper” has a distinctive, painterly style. It comes replete with a darkened color palette and an intentionally smudgy look. This contrasts with the intense chromaticity and clean lines that dominate most of the shorts in the program. Thus is a good fit for to the more sober perspective of “The Dam Keeper.” The short involves anthropomorphized animals, who wear clothes and attend grade school. The protagonist is a pig, who has inherited the job of maintaining a giant windmill. This seemingly prevents his village from being engulfed by natural disaster. Despite his conscientious efforts, the friendless pig is shunned and bullied by his classmates. Everything changes, when a young female fox transfers to the school. The animation of this distaff classmate is remarkably expressive and captures her innate kindness. Despite the brevity of its running time, the short has a well-developed narrative arc and a deeply touching message.

As noted, the amalgam of five Oscar nominated shorts is complemented by a quartet of others, which failed to make the Academy’s cut. Putting aside the dubious marketing of this collection, the individual components are uneven, not only in style, tone, and running time, but in quality.

**1/2 No MPAA rating 77 minutes

Nathan Lerner sees over 200 feature films a year. He welcomes feedback at lernerprose@gmail.com.

 

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