Looking at the animated short films

By Geoffrey King

During Oscar season, the media focus tends to fall on the actors, directors and producers involved in the biggest feature films of the year.

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However, one category that does not always get the attention it deserves is the animated short films.

This year’s collection of animated shorts are quite impressive and feature a wide array of visual and narrative styles – with the running being that each short film features a very unique take on animation – that will leave viewers spellbound. They are currently being screened as a collection at Amherst Cinema.

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore (United States, 17 minutes)

Watch out Pixar, there’s a new computer-generated powerhouse in town.

It comes in the form of “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore,” which is perhaps the most technically stunning of this year’s shorts. It’s also far and away the Oscar online voting community’s favored choice to take away the prize as on the official page, the film has garnered almost 60 percent of the vote.

The film is about a man who is transplanted “Wizard of Oz”-style to another world after the event of a natural disaster closely resembling Hurricane Katrina. The protagonist finds himself being led to strange library filled with flying books. As the film progresses, the man gets older and all the while, he befriends, mends and attends to the flying books in his strange little library.

While the story itself is charmingly whimsical and fantastical, it is not exactly complex and might leave one wishing for more. The minimalist story is forgivable, however, as the animation alone makes this film worth seeing. As implied by the titular protagonist – less is more.

La Luna (U.S, seven minutes)
“La Luna,” which is a product of Pixar Animation Studios, is being shown directly after “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore” at Amherst Cinema, and the arrangement seems intentional as an artistic and technical comparison.

La Luna is a beautiful and simple story of a young boy who goes to work with his father and grandfather on a small rowboat in the middle of the ocean. He soon learns that his family’s business is not with the ocean but instead with the stars. The boy is soon faced with the decision of following in the divergent footsteps of his father or his grandfather.
This film is very Pixar-esque in that the animation demonstrates a beautiful application of computer technology and has a very positive message at its end – like most Pixar films do.

Although Pixar films are commonly embraced, “La Funa” received 20 percent of online voting. Though many might believe this film will not take home the prize on Sunday, only time will tell.

Wild Life (Canada, 14 minutes)

“Wild Life” is perhaps the most philosophically-driven film of the bunch.

The story is of a man from 19th-century England who travels to the wild west of Canada. The film’s storytelling method is unusual in that it is an animated “mockumentary,” composed just as a documentary would be. It features interviews and footage of the discussed events; the obvious difference is that it is animated.

The animation of the film also stands out for being done seemingly with watercolors and very loose, expressive brushstrokes. In just 14 minutes, this little animated gem will make you laugh, cry and everything in between.

Overall, this is certainly the most impressive film of this year’s nominees. It is deeply moving as well as artistically astounding, and it demands every second of your attention.

Though it garnered only 9 percent of the vote, “Wild Life” could still go all the way.

A Morning Stroll (U.K., seven minutes)

“A Morning Stroll” is probably the most innovative film of this year’s bunch. The story is a simple one: A man walks down the street and is passed by a chicken. Surprised, the man turns to see the chicken climb a set of steps and knock on the front door of an apartment building. The door opens, and the chicken is let inside.

It may not seem like a very intricate story, and that’s because it’s not – but that’s the point. Instead, the film offers three versions of the same story. The first version is set in the 1950s, the second in the 2000s, and third in the 2050s. With each new time period, the animators have employed a different style of animation.

All in all, the film presents a wry, digestible commentary on the direction in which our society is heading. The first segment features traditional, two-dimensional animation with wholesome-looking characters. The second segment, set in the present, features trippy, computer generated animation. The last segment is set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, and the main character is now a zombie.

The film is a clever and successful attempt at social commentary. While only 7 percent of online voters think it will win the Oscar, it is refreshingly innovative and still stands a chance.

Dimanche/Sunday (Canada, nine minutes)

The collection of shorts opens with a delightful film titled “Dimanche” (French for “Sunday”). It is the story of a little boy and his family’s weekly Sunday routine. Each Sunday, the train rattles through the town, knocking pictures off the wall and blowing leaves off the trees. Right before the train passes, the boy takes a coin and lays it on the tracks, waiting for the inevitable squish.

The strange characters in this film seem to bear a close resemblance to the fanciful creatures found in the board game “Cranium.”

There is no dialogue whatsoever in “Dimanche,” which is also a common feature in short animated films. Don’t let this be a deterrence, however, because dialogue is not necessary to understand the plot or to fully enjoy the film.

Overall it is a very successful film, but it can be slow at times. “Dimanche” is voted least likely to win at the Oscars on Sunday, garnering only 4 percent of the vote.

Geoff King can be reached at [email protected]