Wall▪E eventually struck out in its bid to match 1991’s Beauty and the Beast as the only animated film to ever score a Best Picture Academy Award nomination, but its widespread critical praise helped underscore the notion — once somewhat radical, now more firmly rooted — that animation is a medium, and not a genre unto itself. More proof comes courtesy of this year’s slate of nominees for Best Animated Short Film.
Running only three minutes, French entry Oktapodi is the shortest nominated film, and it’s also the slightest — a case of colorful but empty style masquerading as entertainment. The story finds two octopi fighting for their lives in an out-of-water, air-quote comical escape/rescue mission through the streets of a small Greek village. Nothing about this short sequence makes much sense, and those inclined to give it a good-natured, shrugging pass need only be reminded of Finding Nemo‘s thrilling, funny aquarium escape scene, which didn’t ignore basic biological facts about its subjects, but instead incorporated them into the story.
House of Small Cubes, Japanese writer-director Kunio Kato’s 12-minute effort, is an elegiac offering
about an old man battling a rising tide to save his house; there’s a
children’s-storybook-come-to-life quality to the animation, and it draws a viewer in slowly. Near wordless nine-minute British entry This Way Up, a slice of funeral slapstick from Adam Foulkes and Alan Smith in which two morgue attendants try to deliver a coffin to rest, is gorgeously sketched, but, like Oktapodi, a bit hollow, narratively.
The theatrical pre-show entertainment to Wall▪E, and part of its DVD celebration as well, Disney/Pixar’s five-minute Presto (above) is about a turn-of-the-century magician who, after failing to feed his rabbit, enters into a wild on-stage game of one-upsmanship with said animal. Writer-director Doug Sweetland’s is the crown jewel of the nominated flicks, a kinetic, funny little farce that also manages to slip in a few touching grace notes about the mutual dependence of its characters. Easily the second-best entry is Lavatory Lovestory, a spare, mostly black-and-white, 10-minute Russian film from writer-director Konstantin Bronzit about a lonely female toilet attendant who attempts to uncover the identity of her secret admirer. Formally, it’s nothing like Peanuts, but its mixture of externalized daydream and (swallowed, in this case) interior monologue recalls Charles Schulz’s skill at mixing the wry and the wistful. A tender score helps matters, too.
Many big cities are hosting theatrical exhibitions of the films, but look for them down the line, collected, on DVD, if they don’t make it to your area in the coming weeks. The animated program includes five more “commended” bonus shorts from Marc Crase, Bill Plympton, Matthew Walker and Jeremy Clapin not screened for review, hence its listed running time below. For a review of the 2008 Oscar live action short film nominees, click here. (Shorts International/Magnolia, unrated, 88 minutes)