Once again, silence is golden among the Oscar-nominated animated short films.
After four of the five contenders on last year's slate were dialogue-free affairs, all five nominees in this year's race tell their tales without words — and none are needed to make them compelling cinema.
Although none of this year's Academy Award short-film candidates are as transcendent as 2012 winner “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore” or last year's Pixar effort “La Luna,” the overall field for 2013 is the strongest in years.
As usual, the diversity of the nominees is striking. Although Pixar is noticeably absent from the race — while “La Luna” competed in 2012's animated short category, it didn't make it into theaters until last summer's bow of the Academy Award-nominated feature “Brave” — “Paperman” provides plenty of old-school Disney magic.
Set in the mid-20th century, the black-and-white story of two office workers who meet-cute on a train platform and reconnect through a flock of paper airplanes folds more romance, charm and imagination into seven minutes than can be found in a whole herd of humdrum feature-length romantic comedies. “Paperman” previously showed in theaters with Disney's Oscar-nominated animated feature “Wreck-It Ralph.”
Running just 1 minute and 40 seconds, “Fresh Guacamole” may be the shortest film ever nominated for an Oscar, but writer/director PES (AKA Adam Pesapane) packs in plenty of clever and quirky visuals as an unseen chef transforms playing dice, Monopoly pieces, Christmas lights and other inorganic items into an unusual cinematic serving of chips and dip.
The venerable animated series “The Simpsons” shows its smarts with “The Longest Daycare,” featuring the animated brood's youngest member, Maggie. After she is enrolled in the Ayn Rand Daycare Center but denied access to its plush area for gifted children, the pacifier-sucking tot gets tangled in a battle of wits and wills with a fellow toddler, one with a penchant for smashing butterflies. The five-minute caper was given its initial theatrical release with “Ice Age: Continental Drift.”
Although stop-motion animation has reached renewed levels of popularity, few of the puppet-driven tales can match the eccentric originality of the relationship drama “Head Over Heels.” After many years of marriage, Walter and Madge literally can no longer see eye to eye: They've grown so far apart that he lives on the floor while she resides on the ceiling. When Walter tries to rekindle their romance, it disturbs the strange equilibrium of their household and forces them to decide how far they are willing to reach out to save their marriage. British filmmaker Timothy Reckart deserves kudos for not falling back on easy answers with his touching clay-crafted short.
The most emotionally resonant and visually striking of the nominees, “Adam and Dog” marks the directorial debut of Disney animator Minkyu Lee. Set in the Garden of Eden, his poignant and painterly meditation on companionship, jealousy and devotion traces the initial meeting between the first man and his best friend.
The 85th Annual Oscars will be handed out Feb. 24 and air on ABC. As part of its Oscar Tune Up, the Oklahoma City Museum of Art is showing all five nominated animated short films at 5:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and Feb. 22-23 and 12:30 p.m. Sunday and Feb. 24 at its Noble Theater, 415 Couch Drive. For more information, go to www.okcmoa.com/see/films.
— Brandy McDonnell