Monday, February 10, 2014

Oscar Shorts Animated (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The Oscar Shorts: Animation

In contrast to last year's animated shorts that were rather darkly outlined and shaded in doom, this season's crop takes a light turn. Regardless of the fact that there is a wisecracking ostrich and a cynical giraffe in the manner of Billy Crystal and David Letterman, all the entries possess an energy and punch that hits like a ball of wasabi paste.

Disney is king in Laura Macmullan's frenetic and inventive "Get a Horse!" featuring a vintage 1928 Mickey and Minnie Mouse. The story begins with a  black and white screen which contains all the best of vintage Disney, then Mickey breaks through the "screen" to save his beloved from a Bluto style bull- like villain. The 1928 portion of the film is in essence,  the best of Betty Boop era humor. As the film progresses, more and more cacophony and motion arise, producing a madcap jumble. While this might be nerve wracking to some, the effects and colors are spectacular, bringing the concepts of  2D and 3D into opposing rhythms, harmonies and disconnects between 1928 and 2014. The sight of Mickey with an iPhone alone is a moment of animated history.  Fans of Walt can rejoice as the speech of Mickey, arises from the man himself, albeit posthumously. Despite the controversy raised from some critics, that the new Disney undermines the former 1928 version, it's safe to say that the long ago genius of "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" is alive and well.

Next, "Mr. Hublot" by Laurent Witz features realms by sculptor Stephane Halleux. Mr. Hublot, (in a seeming tribute to Jean-Pierre Jeunet) resembles a minion from "Despicable Me". He is a pale button with mechanical goggles who busies about adding machines and watches tv. His landscape is cluttered and gray. One bleak day, he happens upon a puppy, who eats and eats and eats. Drama commences when the animal turns into a monstrous, if docile beast, taking up every available space. The energy of this film comes from its total commitment to a world dominated by machines and Orwellian gray metal. Nearly every sooty building is for sale or in foreclosure and Hublot soldiers on, at times more interested in TV than the dog. Like an animated Joseph K. from The Trial, this nervous nub of a man, takes all happenstance as inevitable and seems to prefer passivity.

Daniel Sousa's "Feral" is a touching "wild child" tale of a boy who exists within Nature. Borrowing elements from gothic vampire tales, this is a brisk study of the hardship of forcing society upon the indigenous. The animation  is moody and stirring, recalling something of the southern gothic in the pairing of black church steeples with triangular killing teeth, not to mention a dark circle of claustrophobic and watchful children.

The Japanese entry "Possessions" by Shuhei Morita, echoes Kurosawa in its philosophy of magic, passion and intent.  In a genuine Kaidan or ghost tale, we have discarded umbrellas that are vividly infused with ghosts and a hunter is left mute and fettered. If you can forgive one annoying frog, the art and color is spellbinding and this is probably the most poetic animated short you will see. It seems that the only thing that the fabrics and umbrellas want is to be remembered with respect, as long ago symbols of beauty and utility. Indeed, this film will make you believe that a cloak has just as much butterfly allure as a geisha.

Once again, the creators of "The Gruffalo" are back at it in "Room on the Broom", a quirky benevolent Halloween tale, where a red haired witch has her yoga mat and seems ready for the Lilith Fair. Along her travels she meets an honest dog, an obsessively clean frog, and a passive bird in their somewhat Homeric journey. Although "The Gruffalo" struck me as too cutesy, this new film voiced by Simon Pegg actually had me laughing. And the glibly sarcastic tomcat steals the show.

Last but not least, there are some special mentions, the best of them being the deeply existential "The Missing Scarf" voiced by George Takei of Star Trek and "A La Francaise" featuring a 19th Century French aristocracy seen as pompous  and supercilious hens and roosters. Both of these "mentions" have a pulse and an anarchist spirit that threaten to overshadow the above mentioned Oscar shorts.

In keeping with tradition, the animated shorts as a group present a satisfying fantasia for every mood or mind that you may be in.

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