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Oscar Nominated Shorts: Animated - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Oscar Nominated Shorts: Animated
Madagascar, Carnet De Voyage: B
Let's Pollute: B+
The Gruffalo: B-
The Lost Thing: B-
Day & Night: A
["Highly Recommended":]
Urs: C+
The Cow Who Wanted to Be a Hamburger: B+

It's easy to assume that the animated shorts would be more fun than the live action ones, but it seems that's often not the case -- this year being no exception. These entries range from the bland to the fantastic, with most falling somewhere in between.

Madagascar, Carnet De VoyageMadagascar, Carnet De Voyage, an 11-minute film from France, is fascinating in its way; it's certainly conceptually unique. It's as though someone's travel scrap book has been brought to life, with each of the photos and drawings animated. You can even sometimes see the crease between pages of the book. It sheds light on how an outsider observes the local customs while traveling in Madagascar, albeit from a wistful, adult-cartoon perspective. Rather than giving you a sense of actually having been there, it gives you a sense of being told about it by someone who was there -- while showing you his scrap book. The animated style suits the concept, but not as much the people featured, as it gives them an almost deadened look in their eyes.

let's polluteThe six-minute Let's Pollute, from the U.S., is sarcasm done right. It takes on the look and feel of 1950s cultural propaganda, telling us all quite literally how we and the world benefit from thoughtless polluting. The underlying truth is only told in the details of the animation, which depicts people as carelessly vapid and wildlife as by definition expendable. Its surface cheeriness barely covers a genuine disgust with the state of the world at its core, and it's very effective at relaying its true message while making us giggle.

The GruffaloThe Gruffalo is a 27-minute adaptation of a children's book of the same name with a star-studded voice cast: Helena Bonham Carter, Robbie Coltraine, John Hurt, Tom Wilkinson and more. This story of a forest mouse that by turns outwits several different predators has its charms, but it does take its time a bit too much; this merely moderately entertaining 27-minute short could have been a great 10-minute short. Why the story even needs to be narrated by a mother squirrel to her kids is never made clear, so while it's extremely well animated and certainly has its moments, it does get a little tedious.

the lost thingThe Australian The Lost Thing is similar to The Gruffalo in both its greatness of animation (though very different in visual style) as well as its tediousness, but at least this one is 15 minutes rather than nearly half an hour. Still, a good five minutes could have been shaved off this one as well and given it a tighter polish. The point of the story seems to elude the teller, as a boy finds a half-machine, half-organic tentacled "thing" on a beach, which is huge but somehow unnoticed by anyone else around. The boy befriends it and tries to help the thing find its place in the world. One that place is found you kind of wonder if the filmmakers were on acid.

day & nightAnyone who has seen Toy Story 3 -- which would be a good majority of regular movie-goers -- has already also seen Day & Night, a 6-minute short by Pixar Animation studios that ran before the film. It easily stands out as the best among the nominees here, with its characteristically sleek imagery and clever simplicity. "Fear of the unknown" is the theme here, as embodied by two hand-drawn individuals representing both day and night, who meet and get to know each other through the CGI animation revealed within the outlines of their bodies. It's the latest in a long string of projects that embody the reliable excellence of Pixar.

ursThe 10-minute German film Urs is presented in this package as "Highly Commended," and I'm a bit at a loss as to why. An elderly woman and her son, a guy perplexingly drawn like an inbred caveman, climb to the top of a mountain, the lady strapped to his back in her chair. The animation is odd and the mood melancholy; the overall effect is one of wonderment -- at how this short could be considered even remotely great.

The Cow Who Wanted to Be a HamburgerNo collection of animated shorts is complete without Bill Plympton! This 6-minute American short is a bit of a stylistic departure for Plympton, who usually animates scribbled drawings, but here animates with dark black outlines and painted with vibrant, solid colors. It's about a calf who misinterprets a "Happy Burger" billboard as a happy goal for which to aim. It's told with characteristic humor, is charming to the last (be sure to read the credits), and is far more deserving of an Oscar nomination than either The Gruffalo or The Lost Thing. But I guess there's no accounting for taste.

Overall: B

Playing at the Varsity Theatre through Thursday.
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