Never underestimate the power of Milwaukee Film Festival’s children’s shorts program. Hidden behind its kid-friendly exterior lies a world of wonder and whimsy. Seriously, there are some genuinely good shorts to be had, including the 2014 Oscar-nominated The Dam Keeper which played during last year’s program. Of course, being a grab bag of animated shorts from around the world, not every short is going to be spectacular. Never the less, it’s still worth the viewing. So please enjoy my short reviews on the twelve shorts shown at the program.
Lila – Directed by Carlos Lascano
Lila is a case study of an artist as she goes about her day, transforming the world around her with her art. She does so by adding her drawing to her viewpoint. For example, she adds a Viking hat to a person by placing her notebook above them. The short combines effective camera angles with playful imagery and animation to make the magic come alive. The short forgoes dialogue to instead tell its story exclusively with visuals, making it engaging from its bright and colorful beginning to its heartbreaking yet hopeful ending. It’s a short that’s as inspired as its protagonist.
Dustin – Kristina Jaeger
What happens when you place Wall-E and a dog fit for Disney’s Feast in the same short? You get this animated short known as Dustin. The titular dog ends up going toe to toe with a Roomba®-like robot to see who can collect the most wayward treats. While the short shows plenty of scenes with the dog and his rival going at it, it doesn’t show them bonding at all, which makes the scenes where the dog and robot become friends jarring. Also, the animation, while cute, is a bit too stiff. The robot moves more organically that the dog. Enough said.
Ahmed & Mildred – Adam and Joe Horton
Ahmed & Mildred is a subpar short about two kids that bond over action figures. While the not-so-romantic comedy sports all of the appropriate narrative peaks and values, some good camera shots and an admirable attempt at telling its story without dialogue, the predictable story makes us loose our interest fairly quickly. It tries to lead us on to how the pieces of the boy’s action figure would reunite our heroes a la Donald Duck and Daisy’s locket in Fantasia 2000’s “Pomp and Circumstance” segment, but they reunite in an entirely different and anticlimactic way. Plus, those special effects are awful. The part where superhero costumes are superimposed on them makes it look like they’re covered in radioactive Play-Doh®.
Dance Class (La Clase De Baile) – Camilo Cogua Rodriguez
Dance Class is animated short where a young girl has trouble fitting into her dance class. As the short goes on, it touches on gender identity, which is great to see in a children’s short. I think they could have taken it further, though, because the short doesn’t have much else going for it. Sure it’s expressive and well-paced, but that’s pretty much it. A worthy effort with something to say even though it’s speaking softly.
Anatole’s Little Saucepan – Eric Montchaud
Anatole’s Little Saucepan, on the other hand, deals much more elegantly and more profoundly with its themes. The short heavily implies that the saucepan that Anatole drags around is meant to represent a mental disorder, most likely an autism spectrum disorder. He finds himself under a lot of hardship, as evidenced by how the saucepan gets stuck on things and makes people’s heads turn. But with the right kind of help, he learns to manage. While everything is told through narration, the visual imagery punctuates every moment, such as when Anatole hides under his saucepan and it turns small and cold. This animated short provides a well-told and well-animated allegory for children to better understand mental disorders.
Astronaut-K – Daniel Harisberger
Astronaut-K is a one-man Three Stooges involving an astronaut marooned on an unknown planet. As he explores the planet, he gets into an adorable series of unfortunate events. But you won’t believe the twist! While the jokes were more funny than laugh-out-loud, this is still a favorable slice of entertainment. Though I could do with a bit more fluid animation and the removal of the very few poopy and butt jokes.
Mo’s Bows – Kristen McGregor, Jennifer Treuting
What did you do when you were nine? Mo made his own company when he was nine. This short chronicles the real-life Mo’s Bows, a Memphis-based business established in 2011 that sells hand-crafted bow ties made by Mo’s family. It’s a legitimate business; last April, Mo and his mother were invited to Las Vegas with Union Bank for the Community Associations Institute Conference. The short is a well-made, feel good mini-documentary examining a truly self-made man. Of course, despite being a CEO, Mo is still expected to take out the trash.
Papa – Natalie Labarre
Papa is a lovely animated story of a father trying to get along with his daughter. He does so by building a robot dad to replace himself. The animation is playful yet minimalistic, evoking the style of The PowerPuff Girls. The short’s animation style takes full advantage of the visual medium, allowing it to tell its heartwarming story without a word of dialogue. Maybe the animation could have been a bit more fluid. Despite that, it’s still a little story with a big heart.
Jack – Quentin Haberham
This animated short is essentially a bargain-brand Wall-E. A little robot tries to find the perfect friend in the junkyard, but without the atmosphere, world-building or polish of the Pixar film. The 3D animation is very basic and sluggish. It would have been completely viable, not to mention more impressive, had it been animated in stop-motion with actual, posable models. Plus, even though the short’s ending has closure, it still feels like it just kind of ends with very little buildup. Its non-dialogue story is inoffensive at best, but it’s still a half-hearted attempt to ape the legends at Pixar.
Cookie-Tin Banjo – Peter Baynton
Cookie-Tin Banjo is an animated music video about a boy growing up with his guitar-playing father. It has that “reminiscing about summer” vibe to it, along with some cute if flat animations. But it’s repetitive lyrics and overly-nostalgic nature overstays its welcome. It’s narrative was also a bit too linear, without any changes in mood or circumstance. Still, it’s a solid short that carries its own tune.
Bunny New Girl – Natalie van den Dungen
Bunny New Girl takes the usual schoolyard clichés but does nothing new or even interesting with them. It’s the same new girl stick, the same bullies, and the same oblivious teacher. It does have one twist, but it’s limp and comes out of nowhere. And just like with Dustin, there’s no evidence as to why the bullies suddenly started acting nice to the new girl. Everything else is mostly inoffensive, with a somewhat cute ending, but it’s all just so dreary and cookie-cutter. This short tries to blend in with the cool kids but ends up becoming the class clown.
The Elephant and the Bicycle (Le Vélo De L’Éléphant) – Olesya Shchukina
The Elephant and the Bicycle is about a big elephant with an even bigger problem: he’s trying to save up his money from his street sweeping job in order to afford a new bicycle. Just like with Papa, the animation is playful yet minimalistic, and remains fluid despite being a cut-out animation. And its simple premise, all clearly conveyed without a word, is punctuated with effective narrative peaks and valleys, with some genuinely heartbreaking moments towards the end. It combines all the best aspects of all of the shorts that I have seen up to this point, providing a very nice bookend to another great year for Kids Shorts: Size Medium.
You can catch Kids Shorts: Size Medium on Saturday, October 3rd at 10:30am at the Oriental Theater.