Oscar-Nominated Animated Shorts

It’s not eatin’ and it ain’t in Wheaton but Wallace and Gromit started a bakery so by cracky I’m gonna write about it.

I saw the latest round of Oscar-nominated animated short films at E Street this week, and loved them as usual. The showing included the five nominees plus several other “commended” (or something like that) animations, and they were all good, though the Canadian one about a runaway train was really weird. The National Film Board of Canada has long been an incubator for great animation, although they have never returned to the level of this, their greatest short ever, from 1988.

So I enjoyed all the entries, but three were particularly fabulous, one being of course the new Wallace & Gromit, A Matter of Loaf and Death, where the boys are breadmakers and a murderer of bakers is afoot. The usual hilarity and mayhem ensue, and it is the usual W&G brilliance, but then again it is, in form, more or less just like the other W&G films. Which is why I preferred two of the other nominees that I thought were more original.

I thought the Spanish entry, La dama y la muerte (The Lady and the Reaper), was fantastic. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to note that the two main characters are a lady and the (Grim) Reaper, and both are remarkably rich and well-developed for a six-minute film, especially one without dialogue (I love in general the ability of good animation to convey a wide range of thought and emotion without dialogue — Gromit is the perfect example). The animation is good — most of the entries this year are clearly Pixar-influenced, including this one — and the story is well-told, relevant, energetic, and full of black humor. Loved it, and thought it would be my favorite.

The final short is preceded by a warning about profanity and violence. The film is called Logorama: it is French, it is violent and profane, and it is one of the most mind-blowing animations I have ever seen. Essentially everything — the characters, the vehicles, the buildings — are corporate logos. Like, Colonel Sanders is working the KFC counter. The zoo is populated by corporate animal logos; instead of airplanes, airline logos buzz through the air. It’s hard to describe; I don’t think it can be effectively understood without actually seeing it. The first dialogue is a conversation between two Michelin Men, a sweet parody of the Royale With Cheese scene from Pulp Fiction. And Logorama proceeds to be every bit as violent and profane as Pulp Fiction, which in some ways was a long-form live-action cartoon. I’m sure some critics are dismissing Logorama as shallow, a mere pop art collage (I made sure to read nothing about the films before seeing them, and still haven’t studied up), but I think it is a remarkable work of art, in part because I think the point is ambiguous. Is it an indictment of our violence-loving, corporatized culture? Is it an anti-American screed? Is it a Biblical prophecy? Or is it simply a joyous, anarchic romp? Or two or more of those at once, or something else entirely? I doubt it will win the Oscar, as I don’t think most Oscar voters will appreciate it.  But it should win, IMO. Brilliant short animated film, and a rare animated film that I can’t wait to discuss with other people who have seen it.

One other point: it seems like almost every short animated film is about death, at least that’s true of Oscar nominees lately.  Some are funny, some are serious, but death comes for (almost) them all. Reflective of the human condition? Particularly good fodder for humor, and most animated shorts are intended to be funny? Some other reason? I fall into the “the only way to deal with inevitable death is to laugh at it” camp, so I’m not complaining at all about all the animated reaping, I just think it’s interesting.

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