Rounding Up Oscar’s Animated Shorts

With the 85th Academy Awards just ’round the corner, I spent the last few days scouring the Internet in search of nominees in the only category about which I truly care: Best Animated Short.

Finding streaming versions online can be a tricky business, as they crop up and then vanish from various video sites like a strange game of Wack-a-Mole; the dreaded “This video has been removed by request” never far from the picture. As a result, I have no idea how well this post will hold up as time wears on — the “Simpson” short, in particular, has proven problematic. So get ’em while they’re hot!

Maggie Simpson in “The Longest Daycare:” Maggie Simpson attends the Ayn Rand Daycare Center, where she finds a caterpillar and faces off against her nemesis.

YouTube Preview ImageFresh Guacamole: An unseen cook uses a series of unusual ingredients to prepare a bowl of guacamole.

Head Over Heels: The emotional distance between a long-married husband and wife has resulted in an unusual living arrangement.

Adam and Dog: A playful dog exploring the newly created world comes upon the first man. (Yes, that Adam. So be prepared for a bit of animated Before-the-Fall  “attire.”)

A young man working in an office tries desperately to attract the attention of a girl in the building across the street.

My Initial Reactions:
Beyond the reference of its opening frame and its tongue-in-cheek title, Daycare left me cold. It looked and felt like a truncated version of a Simpsons episode rather than a stand-alone piece. And while I enjoy the show (probably more than I care to admit), the overall effect was underwhelming. (I did like the “music only” approach — that’s a theme this year, it seems — but Hans Zimmer? Must the man score everything? Also, “Bleakest Black.” Heh.) Still, underwhelming.

Guacamole, on the other hand, is an impressive display of technical artistry — an imaginative blend of “Live Stop-Motion” and claymation that is chock-full of surprises and subtle touches. But it’s a “process” film, not a story. And that makes it an emotionally uninvolving “Wow” generator, rather than an “Awww” one. (Plus, its creator took the term “short” very literally.)

Head Over Heels was “inspired by a Rembrandt painting”this one — and is the only student film to be nominated. Watching it, I was reminded that there can be something unsettlingly …mechanistic about stop-motion, and I found myself battling to get around that impression in the early going. (I struggle through the same adjustment period every time I settle down to a silent film, actually.) Once I found my way past that speed bump, though, I loved it. The story concept’s the real star here — insightful and a bit bitter-sweetish, but with a wonderful payoff. My favorite kind.

Adam and Dog is a real gem, as well. Again with the bitter-sweet, and the gentle, luminous style is really beautiful. There are some wonderfully subtle, nuanced moments here, as well. I was amazed at the moment when Adam petted the dog for the first time; stylized, yet amazingly accurate. And the way the animal looks up trustingly; perfect. A kind-hearted, innocent look at a less-than-innocent reality, this one pack a real punch.

Paperman’s still my favorite, I think. Magical, uplifting, whimsical, and gorgeous …and the perfect length. But if Head Over Heels or Adam and Dog end up taking home the statue, I won’t be at all disappointed.

UPDATE: Interestingly, it was Adam and Dog that got pulled first. That surprises me, given that it had nearly 500,000 views in about a week. I’ll try chasing copies around for a bit, but that’s probably not a long-term solution. Hopefully, it will be widely available after the Big Night.

UPDATE II: We’re down to 40%. The Adam and Dog mirror lasted longer than I would have expected, but it’s finally gone. I guess we’ll have to wait ’till later to see the whole slate once again.

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About Joseph Susanka

Joseph has been doing development work for institutions of Catholic higher education since graduating from Thomas Aquinas College in 1999. A grateful resident of Wyoming, he spends his free time exploring the beautiful Wind River Mountains, keeping track of his (currently) seven sons, being amazed by his (currently) lone daughter, and thanking his lucky stars for Netflix.