Were my computer time not so limited, I’d be commenting like crazy on my friend Crystal’s 12 Days of Cartoonary on her site The Uniblog. Cartoons featured include the Chuck Jones classics Duck! Rabbit! Duck! (pictured above) and Feed the Kitty (which I analyzed here), the Disney short Donald Applecore, Tex Avery’s too hot for the kiddies Red Hot Riding Hood, and the Coo-Coo Cola cult episode of Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers. More great cartoons are on the way, so check in often.
Posts Tagged ‘shorts’
Another Oscar Night has come and gone and another lucky few animated films have been recognized by the Academy. I just barely managed to stay up for the animation awards this year. (This week’s Monday Movie post explains why.) As usual, I’m not taking the Oscars too seriously, but I do think they’re an interesting look at how Hollywood perceives animation and how that changes as the years go by.
The Cat Piano, a short film from the Australian People’s Republic of Animation, has already enjoyed much viewing and praise on the internet. But with a DVD version with bonus content due out this month and a limited edition Blu-Ray currently available through ebay, now is the perfect time to either watch or rewatch this stylish piece of animation. With its pitch perfect combination of beat poetry, monochromatic color schemes, and design reminiscent of jazz age album covers, The Cat Piano is a treat for the eyes and ears alike.
So the 2011 Oscar nominations are out and I have a confession to make.
I have only seen one of the Best Animated Feature nominees.
I think I can be forgiven for not having seen The Illusionist yet. This latest film from Sylvain Chomet – director of 2004 Best Animated Feature nominee The Triplets of Belleville – is still gradually making its way across the country and won’t be playing near me until this Friday. (To see when and where it’s playing near you, check the official site.) But I have no excuse beyond bad timing for missing How To Train Your Dragon. Despite numerous reports from critics and friends whose opinions I respect that it’s quite good, I just haven’t made the time to see it. It’s a problem I intend to remedy before the Oscars are handed out.
So what can I say about this year’s Best Animated Feature nominees? Sizing up the competitors
Has it really taken me this long to get to Chuck Jones? Granted, there are any number of important animation artists and topics that I have yet to touch on. But Chuck Jones? Chuck Jones, the creator of so many beloved animated characters? Chuck Jones, winner of numerous awards for his work, including a Lifetime Achievement Oscar? Chuck Jones, director of no less than four of the top five films in the prestigious list of the 50 greatest cartoons of all time? Chuck Jones, the man who….
Wait. Let me back up for a minute.
The first Oscar Night since I started the Ink and Pixel Club has come and gone. Though enjoy watching the festivities (for as long as I can stay awake), I try not to take the Academy Awards too seriously. I realize that an Oscar can be a great boost to an individual or film. But these awards are not chosen by the almighty drama gods or FilmCriticBot 3000. They’re picked by people. Smart, talented, qualified people, yes, but people nonetheless. Academy voters don’t get sequestered away from the world for a year so that they can judge films solely on their inherent merits. They have their own tastes, prejudices, and biases. So while winning the Oscar may be a great honor, it isn’t factual confirmation that one person’s film, performance, or behind-the-scenes work is better than anyone else’s in the past year. I try to keep the role film industry politics plays in mind as the prized statuettes go off to their new homes.
That doesn’t mean I don’t get disappointed when I think the Academy has made a bad call.
Up winning Best Animated Feature Film was not a disappointment. Admittedly, I’m a big fan of the older styles of animation, so part of me was a little sad to see the Oscar go to the one computer animated film nominated. But even that part of me recognizes that Up is a very good movie that does push some boundaries for animation. Pixar always delivers films that are top notch visually, but the story of Up is equally groundbreaking, if not more so. I’ve watched Pixar gently nudge mainstream audiences towards the idea that animated films don’t have to be all about kids or kid-relatable characters and their problems. Up represents a big step in that direction. This is a film that stars an elderly man and starts off by taking us through the decades he spent with his beloved wife up until her death. At least one analyst predicted that the firm would not be commercially viable. How many studios would have caved in to panicked marketing execs and dumped the whole opening, or made Russell the main character and altered him to make him more “aspirational” for a young audience? In his acceptance speech, director Pete Docter thanked Disney and Pixar for backing such an “oddball” film, something that not every studio would do.
The outcome of this particular race was considered a foregone conclusion by many critics and fans. As I mentioned in my earlier article about the Oscar nominees, Up was the only film in contention for Best Animated Feature to also be nominated one of the best films of the year overall. Going purely on logic, that would indicate that the Academy sees Up as the best animated film of the year. But Pixar’s film was up against some stiff competition. The past year was a very good one for animated features, as evidenced by the fact that there were five worthy nominees this year instead of the usual three. Up is a worthy winner and Pixar should feel even happier about bringing home the award because of the high quality of the film’s competitors for that honor.
The Best Animated Short Film category generally gets ignored by everyone but animation fans. Critics usually skip it when making their predictions for the winners. The general public has seldom seen more than one of the nominated films. This was not always true. Back in the days when moviegoers could expect to see one or more short films before the feature presentation, shorts were widely seen and some became incredibly popular and well-known. But the cost of producing shorts, the arrival of television, and other factors led studios to abandon the format. In recent years, some of the major animation studios have started producing shorts again, recognizing their potential for experimentation and telling different kinds of stories. These studio shorts are usually run before a new animated film and often included on the DVD release, meaning that a large number of people sees them. But studio animated shorts are still far less common than they were in the heyday of the short film format. Most creators of animated short films – particularly the ones that get nominated for Best Animated Short – are independent animators, toiling in relative obscurity and known only to those fans who seek out the animation festivals where their work plays.
Because of this, I have a soft spot for the independent animators who usually nab the bulk of the Best Animated Short nominations. These are people who don’t get recognized for their work very much outside of the animation community, so it’s good to see them get their fifteen minutes – or thirty seconds. I am sure that Nicolas Schmerkin and the rest of the crew of this year’s winner Logorama worked very hard in the six years it took them to make their film and that the Oscar will help them to gain broader recognition from people who can fund their next project.
That said, I absolutely hated Logorama.
I didn’t feel like there was a real stand-out in this year’s Animated Short nominees. My prediction was that the Academy would hand the Oscar to A Matter of Loaf and Death, based on their past fondness for Aardman’s work. I love Wallace and Gromit and the film is solid, but neither the story nor the animation felt like anything new or groundbreaking for the series. Either French Roast or The Lady and the Reaper would have been a fine choice. Like the Wallace and Gromit film, they aren’t terribly innovative, but both are stylish and fun. Granny O’Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty has a fun premise, but doesn’t explore it enough and features some weak character design. But Logorama was the one short I never wanted nor expected to win.
Rather than character or story, Logorama is constructed around a concept. This does not automatically doom it. I have seen very interesting and entertaining films that focus primarily on concept and the short film format is an ideal way to explore an idea without risking the audience growing bored or confused by the lack of traditional narrative. The concept in Logorama is a world where virtually everything – people, objects, vehicles, buildings, and landscape – is a logo or commercial spokescharacter. The problem is that this idea on its own isn’t enough to sustain a short film – much less a short film that runs sixteen minutes. Logorama doesn’t give the audience anything beyond this initial concept: no compelling characters to follow, no engaging plot thread, no underlying commentary on our advertising-saturated society or anything else. The film presents recognition of these familiar logos as all that is needed to keep us amused. It reminds me of those shorts that ran before the Pokémon movies where the main purpose was to cram as many of the marketable little critters as possible into the allotted time. The humor feels like it might have been sharp and cutting edge ten or more years ago, but comes off stale and tired today. Normally innocuous figures from pop culture out of character has been done before and the short presents nothing more original than Mr. Clean with an effeminate voice. What plot there is jumps around from one event to another without offering much reason to care about any of them. There is a lot of action that should be upping the excitement level, but with nothing to ground it but a pack of characters as one-dimensional as they are when they’re hawking hamburgers and toilet paper, the film merely drags. The animation is nothing new: computer animation made to look more graphic and hand-drawn. The novelty of spotting logos and seeing how they are integrated into the world wears off quickly, leaving the viewer with nothing but a dull, unwieldy waste of time.
I can see how Aardman’s past Oscar wins might have worked against the studio. But if the Academy had wanted to recognize fresh talent rather than rewarding Aardman for doing the same thing well one more time, why not pick any of the other nominated films, all of which are at least superior to Logorama? I found this film incredibly disappointing and the Academy’s choice to award it the Oscar even more so. If Nicolas Schmerkin follows up on his desire to spend the next thirty-six years working on a feature film, I can only hope that he comes up with a better idea than a gun-toting criminal Ronald McDonald.
I’d like to end on a happy note, in honor of the good the Academy has done in recognizing the art of animation this year and in years past. One of my favorite parts of the whole broadcast (or what I stayed up to see) was the characters from the five Best Animated Feature nominees discussing how they felt about being nominated. It was a real treat to see what may be the last new animation of many of these characters. These fun little moments with the animated stars speak to the power of animation to create believable characters who can be just as convincing and beloved as their live-action colleagues.
UP is copyright Disney/Pixar. LOGORAMA is copyright Autour de Minuit. ACADEMY AWARD(S)®, OSCAR(S)®, OSCAR NIGHT® and OSCAR® statuette design mark are the registered trademarks and service marks, and the OSCAR® statuette the copyrighted property, of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. This web site is not affiliated with or otherwise sponsored, endorsed or approved by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences or Academy Awards®.
Now that my article has had a little breathing room, I can talk about one of the big news stories in the animation world this week: the 2010 Academy Award nominations. With five nominees in the Best Animated Feature category, five shorts vying for Best Animated Short, and either one or two animated films up for Best Picture – depending on whether you buy Cartoon Brew’s argument or James Cameron’s – it’s a pretty exciting year for animation fans.
(I’ve decided to start announcing the winners of the previous week’s trivia contest in a separate post, since my comments on them are getting longer.)
A few weeks ago, my husband and I were driving home and listening to a story on NPR about the 2009 selections for the National Film Registry. Every year, the National Film Preservation Board selects up to twenty-five films to be preserved for posterity at the Library of Congress. NPR mentioned a few of this year’s particularly interesting picks, including the Muppets’ big screen debut The Muppet Movie and Michael Jackson’s game-changing music video Thriller. Another film that got a brief mention was “a 1911 mix of live action and animation that influenced Walt Disney.” Curious, and slightly embarrassed that I didn’t immediately know what film was being described, I looked it up online once we got home. I discovered that the short in question was Little Nemo, which left me feeling both glad that the film would be preserved to be enjoyed by future generations and slightly annoyed at NPR. It turned out that their description was a very condensed version of the National Film Preservation Board’s own blurb on the short, but I still felt that it missed much of the point. I like Disney plenty, but I’m not a fan of the idea that in the world of animation, all roads lead to Disney. To suggest that animator Winsor McCay and his work are important chiefly because of their influence on Walt Disney is far from the whole story.
The week of Thanksgiving, with its feasts, visits from friends and relatives, and vacation time for my husband, has left me behind in my writing. I have a film review and a book review in the works, but for now, please enjoy my short comments on this short piece of animation.
Pixar’s George and A.J. was originally available as a special feature for customers who purchased Up through iTunes and has been making the rounds on the internet for about a week now, so perhaps you’ve already seen it. It’s a short cartoon about the two nurses who were supposed to take Up protagonist Carl Fredrickson to the Shady Oaks Retirement Village, only to be thwarted by Carl taking to the skies, house and all. The story shows the impact of Carl’s departure on George, A.J., and the local seniors.
As you may have noticed, this cartoon is pretty different from most of the other Pixar shorts like Partly Cloudy – the short that ran alongside Up in theaters, or Dug’s Special Mission – the short that debuted on the film’s DVD and Blu-ray release. It’s hand-drawn rather than computer animated. There is very little actual animation and no real lip-synch. And the voice cast is different. What’s going on here?
Animation has vert few limits. It can tell nearly any kind of story and depict nearly any kind of imagery. Similarly, almost any tool or medium that can be used to make a static work of art can also be used to create art that moves. There are many different kinds of animation techniques out there, some well known, some obscure. But to the average person, some of the terminology and concepts mentioned when talking about animation can get confusing. Which kinds of animation use computers? How can you animated with paint? What the heck is “Flash animation” anyway? In this article, we’re going to be taking a closer look at some of the different kinds of animation. Some you may know well already. Other you may have never seen before. All have their particular strengths and weaknesses and the potential to become amazing animation in the hands of talented artists.