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The Oscar Nominated Short Films 2013: Animated

Theatrical Review

ShortsHD / Magnolia Pictures; N/A

Director: Various

Written by on January 31, 2013 

Head Over Heels – UK – 10 minutes

Cute is the first word that pops in my mind after watching Timothy Reckart‘s Head Over Heels. It’s a term containing positive and negative connotations, both of which are included in this story about an elderly married couple that has drifted apart. And I don’t mean metaphorically—they’ve literally separated to the point where Walter (Nigel Anthony) roams their home on the floor as Madge (Ruth Rayyah McCaul resides on the ceiling in a mirrored gravitational pull. They may have been “head over heels” in love when the sweet photo hanging on their wall was shot, but now the endearing phrase no longer holds mere flowery prose.

Built in a rough Claymation where the creases in each bent limb are seen, there is a muddy quality to their features and the world they inhabit. Life has turned them surly and impatient, a misplaced wrench amongst Madge’s shoe collection getting thrown to ground level without a care about whether it would hit Walter or not on its way. He spins the aforementioned photograph around its nail to live on his half of the house before she twirls it back. He slides the fridge down for food while she tugs it back up. Neither talks as they go about their daily routine, each trying their best to pretend the other doesn’t exist until a spark of recollection reignites the potential for rekindling.

An effective and perhaps overly schmaltzy parable about compromise and our ease at dismissing it for selfish desires, Walter and Madge’s home flips in mid-air as their mutual indifference holds them in suspension. This equilibrium is only lost after he discovers something of hers from the past to be repaired and shared as a gift. It’s an action so out of character that they plummet back to Earth inverted and fractured even more than before.

Trust must be regained slowly as the coldness years apart have cultivated thaws to conjure memories of a much happier time. We like to believe true love endures, assuming so implicitly. The truth of the matter, however, is that a lot of work is necessary. It only seems the opposite due to the overwhelming warmth felt as a result. Easy to forget how you lost it in the first place once it takes you back over, it’s even easier to realize you never want to lose it again.


The Simpsons: The Longest Daycare – USA – 5 minutes

With it’s 25th season underway and a feature film already under its belt, I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise to see Matt Groening and James L. BrooksThe Simpsons begin a foray into animated shorts. Just as Disney/Pixar has been doing with their Toy Story franchise, I can see Gracie Films continuing to make these brief vignettes as a sort of insurance plan for if or when the long-standing television cartoon staple moves into retirement. It also doesn’t hurt that The Simpsons: The Longest Daycare borrows more than a few nods to old Merrie Melodies shorts with its bookend Maggie faces, stylized title cards, and nicely composed score.

Using the Objectivist principles of Ayn Rand for its humor—the titular daycare is called Ayn Rand School for Tots—we watch as Maggie becomes caught inside a totalitarian system of fear-mongers. After a mental detector, lice detector, and high-tech Hogwart’s Sorting Hat, the young pacifier-sucking toddler ends up being shuffled past the gifted kids and dropped amongst the paste eaters, finger-painters, and uni-brow bullies with anger management problems. Caught in a color palette of black and dark greys, the beautiful blues and reds of butterflies become her only salvation. Saving them from the wrath of a mallet-wielding Baby Gerald becomes her mission.

The film carries The Simpsons aesthetic with a polished sheen, retaining the show’s subversive nature and penchant for textual gags in the background. Using a bit of sleight of hand, we witness the intelligence level of everyone’s favorite cartoon baby despite her misdiagnosis of stupidity as she looks to best her archrival before Marge returns to collect her. It’s a fun little tense thriller with a ton of Rand-lite joking that will go over the heads of its demographic while entertaining the adults who brought them. I don’t like admitting the Simpsons label hurts it because I can never see the show as more than a plebian attempt at high art, but there it is.

I also probably shouldn’t admit that the Pagliacci aria playing at the climax made me sing “No more Rice Krispies” either.


Paperman – USA – 7 minutes

Disney has been hitting their short films out of the park so often lately that I’m contemplating buying the Pixar Short Films Collection Volume 2 on Blu-Ray I’ve seen advertised at my local Regal Cinema. The only shortcoming of the purchase would be the exclusion of their newest work, Paperman, seen before the wonderful Wreck-It Ralph. More adult in nature than most of the cutesy characters crafted of late from the studio, this tale of love at first sight’s power will get you all warm and fuzzy without the need of one word.

Directed by former Pixar animator (until 2007) and current Disney-proper animation supervisor John Kahrs, the short’s black and white palette is a perfect fit for its mid-century NYC locale and aesthetic. There is a familiarity to the artwork as the studio’s trademark hand-drawn characterizations are rendered with beautifully computer-generated gradients. The slightly goofy innocence of its leading man falls in line against the litany of unsuspecting heroes before him while the object of his affection could be the sister of any number of big-eyed princesses they’d been tasked to save. We really didn’t know what we were missing when Mickey shuttered its animation department back in 2000 and I’m so glad it took them less than a decade to correct the error.

Paperman‘s very simple story is the brainchild of Winnie the Pooh scribes Clio Chiang and Kendelle Hoyer. Depicting its lonely office worker as he waits for the morning train, the strong gusts of wind from the fast-moving locomotives subtly force him into the gaze of the stunning woman standing a couple steps to his left. As a solitary sheet of paper is blown from his mitts to her face, the bright red of her pursed lips remains as a parting gift once boarding the next car. With only a wry smile to share as the girl of his dreams is now lost, he makes sure to keep the memento safe. A longing look out the window at work, however, turns his depression into hope as he miraculously catches a glimpse of her across the street.

Desperate to gain her attention while his boss grumpily looks on, the pile of work on his desk gets folded one sheet at a time into paper airplanes willed out into the open air. Falling short, hitting birds, or reaching the window only to fly behind her, a comedy of frustration ensues until the only piece of paper left is the one with her mark. A last ditch effort to finally reach its destination, this fateful flight does more than get the girl’s attention. Falling into Disney cliché with a deliberate wind guiding its trajectory in a swooping dance through the sky, the delicate aircraft leads them towards their destiny.

Love literally is in the air and these two souls find meaning besides the daily slog of capitalism keeping them chained to their work when infinite possibilities wait. Mature in its depiction, the real world setting helps elevate what would otherwise be a slight, whimsical sojourn into a dramatic fable we all hope may occur to us. There are some instances of hands pulling the strings where pure coincidence can’t quite do the job, but it being a Disney piece allows forgiveness without a second thought. Because as we all know, true love can’t be stopped.


Check out the remaining shorts on the next page >>

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