Once again, it’s that time of the year when Oscar season is in full bloom…
At the Oriental Theater, the Landmark chain has been gracious enough to showcase the entire nominee roster for the animated short films category, along with some other added gems. The presented shorts include (in sequential order) Get A Horse!, Mr. Hublot, Feral, Possessions, and Room On The Broom. In addition to the above, A La Francaise, Missing Scarf, and Blue Umbrella are bracketed under the special title of “highly recommended,” but are not competing for an award.
Headlining the show is a pair of disgruntled pre-production stand-ins, an ostrich and a giraffe. Both swap backstage gossip on everyone from Bambi’s Mom to Mickey Mouse. John Lassetter and Pixar are behind these delightful bumpers that segment all of the shorts.
Starting off the Oscar buzz batch is Lauren MacMullen’s Mickey Mouse-vehicle Get A Horse! of Walt Disney Pictures, a suiting introduction that throws back to the early “Steamboat Willy” days of animation. At first, the screen is matted into a reduced 1:33.1 format where Mickey and Minnie Mouse enjoy a sing-song wagon ride courtesy of Horace Horsecollar and Clarabelle Cow. Rubber-hose animation galore, plus many added nuances such as grainy black and white and the sound of a jangly projector create the aura of a truly vintage Disney gem. However, once Mickey’s arch bully Peg-Leg-Pete tries to ruin the party and run the frolicking bunch off the road, Mickey and Horace are pushed off the screen into a theater stage, in living color and CGI. This meta-transition stretched the screen to a full widescreen ratio aspect and creates a humorous duel between the two opposite ends of animation’s technological history, as Mickey and Horace fight to save Minnie and Clarabelle from the wrath of Peg-Leg-Pete. Many sight gags include Mickey poking at the theater screen, causing the characters to gush out, and many others that are akin to Buster Keaton’s theater antics in Sherlock Jr. (1924). Perhaps the funniest and most ingenious of all entries.
France’s entry bears a confident debut by Lauren Wintz and Alexandre Espigares. Mr. Hublot deserves a second viewing just for its exhaustingly detailed production design, enough to clutter all corners of the frame. The mechanical title character Mr. Hublot is ailed by OCD, nervously roaming about his cramped city apartment, fulfilling his daily chores (i.e. watering the robotic flowers). The short focuses on the reclusive Hublot’s struggle to adapt to ways of his new Robot Pet, who slowly but surely begins to loosen up his owner’s tense nature from coping with his rambunctiousness. Hublot might appear to be an allusion to fellow frenchie Jacques Tati’s Mr. Hulot, for his quizzically aloof gestures and movements are nearly identical and are equally hilarious. Hublot’s apartment is strikingly similar to that of Hulot’s in Mon Oncle (1958) in both color scheme and floor plan. Aside from the filmic references, the film focuses on the building relationship between the pet and his master, making Mr. Hublot as sincere as it is intricate. Hublot’s ever-turning head odometer, his many convenient house-hold gadgets, and the elaborate futuristic city-scapes all combine into creating a Rube Goldberg machine of a short film.
Of humble origins, Daniel Sousa and his team of Rhode Island School of Design interns took five years to complete Feral, a story about a feral boy’s difficult appropriation into civilized society. This short dispenses with almost all levity in its sparse narrative that omits any dialogue or narration, and in a sense operates purely on a visual level. This is doubled by the minimalistic character design and backgrounds, monochromatic and one dimensional enough to surely please any fans of John and Faith Hubley and UPA. The stark tone of the short begins with the feral boy being chased by wolves and then slapped by his future capturer, culminating towards strained seriousness. During an episode in which the feral boy is inducted into a public school, he is encircled by a gang of young punks and is scuffed white, like an old pencil eraser, showing the thick symbolism of the shirt. Where animation is concerned, style over substance has the tradition of being easily excused. Though over-wrought idealism can often spoil the pairing at times. For some viewers, this might be true in the case of Feral.
What might be expected from a recent art school graduate turns up more in Possessions than it did in Feral. Shuhei Morita’s Possessions takes a risk with its approach towards animation, more expressionistic and unconventional than any of the other contenders. Morita’s rendering of line and action is unique; though others might find it resembling some early video game, the main character does resemble the famous dinosaur hunter Turok a bit. The oriental fable is about a weary traveler who takes shelter in an ancient hut from a storm, where he is visited by apparitions who challenge to mend an assortment of antiquary items. As Morita states it in an interview conducted by Animated World Network, “I was coming up with a concept for a movie about ‘lost things…thrown away things’ and a character that is connected to things.” This indeed does sum up the overall theme of the short, where the protagonist overcomes his fear of the hauntings through his enthrallment over their ragtag gifts, incomplete but still worthy of some tender loving care. Morita’s comic strides are imbedded in the scenes where the robustly sculpted traveler is compelled into tedious patching, sewing, and binding while sitting cross-legged on the floor- quite against type. The eastern setting bleeds through heavily in Morita’s use of garish and saturated colors that flow like fluttering silk fabric.
Lastly but most family-friendly is Room On The Broom which is an adaptation of a popular British children’s book originally produced by the BBC. A witch and her cat are happily flying through the sky on a broomstick when the wind picks up and blows away the witch’s hat, then her bow, and then her wand. Luckily, three helpful animals find the missing items, and all they want in return is a ride on the broom. But is there room on the broom for so many friends? And when disaster strikes, will they be able to save the witch from a hungry dragon? Max Lang and Jan Lachauer perform the honorable task of remaining true to both the spirit and integrity of the short’s source material with little flights of fancy. What was added by the pair is purely for the sake of fleshing out the thirty-two paged picture book into a complete short– twenty-seven minutes to boot!
Simon Peg narrates the short with considerable gravitas by way of his warm and tender delivery. The CGI employed brought to life an incredibly tactile look, as if all of the characters were hard rubber toys. Of all of the shorts shown at the screen, this one received largest amounts of laughs followed by endearing “awes.” Additionally, it was the first and only to receive unanimous applause at the end, garnering it as the real crowd-pleaser of the evening.
The Oscar Nominated Shorts of 2013 is currently playing at the Oriental Theatre.