Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Oscar Animation shorts: croak in more ways than one

Dear Basketball, Kobe Bryant’s ode to his basketball career, appears an odds-on fave for the Oscar best animated film. It is a sweet serenade to the game, with ex-Disney artist Glen Keane as director (Bryant is a producer) doing the visual honors over five minutes. I’m not quite sure why it’s an odds-on favorite, other than to honor an obvious US sports megastar (well, duh!). Sure, the film is poetic but, in grayish watercolor type drawings, hardly the most inventive, let alone interesting, animation, on offer this year …... That would be the next film, Garden Party, from France (helmed by Florian Babiklan) closing in on seven minutes, though it seems delightfully longer, and which has already won almost 25 awards at various film festivals. In the film, frogs have taken over a sumptuous mansion and are having a grand old time, tumbling into a jar of macaroons or hoping on to the controls of a hi-tech entertainment system, blasting sound throughout. But the mansion is abandoned, its interior disheveled as if after a week-long debauchery…or something else. We finally find out what it is in the final scene, which is a grand play on an underworld crime stereotype. This film deserves to win because of its sheer juxtaposition of lovable amphibians against malevolent squalor. ….. Lou (David Mullins, United States, 7 mins), by a veteran Pixar animator, serves up an inventive story about a kind of ghost – Lou – who hangs out in a school yard lost and found box, and is really the kids’ best friend against the, well, school yard bully. Cute, enjoyable, but not the strongest flic in the roster…… Negative Space (Max Porter and Ru Kuwahata, France, 6 minutes) takes a peculiar obsession and builds a whole story around it. Yes, you all know of the experts who tell of the most efficient ways to pack your travel bags (roll those socks up!). In this film, the directors have fun with the concept to the nth degree. Sure, this short puts a smile on your face. But an award for such a trivial subject? ..... Revolting Rhymes (Jakob Schuh & Jan Lachauer, UK) is the lengthiest of the nominations at 29 minutes, basing its intertwining fairy tales on the spins that diabolical children’s author Roald Dahl had given them. This flic is certainly well made in its multidimensionality, with plenty of whim and chuckles as fairy tale characters come to bizarre and unseemly life. But it’s length is also its undoing – there’s just too much to chew on to maintain impact.

(Oscar nominations for Animation short films will again be screened this weekend at the Detroit Film Theatre at the Detroit Institute of Arts.)

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