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. 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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