The Oscars are fast approaching, which means it’s time to check the list of nominees and watch as many of the nominated films as humanly possible. Of course, for a regular movie-goer like myself, not only would watching 61 movies in two months be a questionable management of priorities, it’s also nearly impossible to get access to some of the smaller, less mainstream films on the list. However three Oscar-worthy animated shorts you’d likely not have the opportunity to see are now streaming online for free for your viewing pleasure. Here they are:
The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore
“Inspired, in equal measures, by Hurricane Katrina, Buster Keaton, The Wizard of Oz, and a love for books, “Morris Lessmore” is a story of people who devote their lives to books and books who return the favor. Morris Lessmore is a poignant, humorous allegory about the curative powers of story. Using a variety of techniques (miniatures, computer animation, 2D animation) award-winning author/ illustrator William Joyce and Co-director Brandon Oldenburg present a new narrative experience that harkens back to silent films and M-G-M Technicolor musicals. “Morris Lessmore” is old-fashioned and cutting edge at the same time.” – Moonbot Studios
Of the three nominees here, Fantastic Flying Books is certainly the most accessible short. The animation is the most conventional, going with a traditional CG style similar to that of several Dreamworks movies like How to Train Your Dragon. It’s a fairly abstract story told without any dialogue, and it’s full of charm and whimsy. The theme is somewhat heavy-handed but it stops a bit short of hitting you over the head with the metaphors. Personally, I put it in second place out of the three.
“On a grey Sunday, a young boy resorts to placing coins on a nearby train track to entertain himself. Picking the coins up after the train has run them over, he discovers that an amazing transformation has taken place. Presented from a child’s vantage point, this cartoon is a nod to childhood and to the things kids do to escape boredom on Sunday afternoons.” – National Film Board of Canada
As opposed to TFFBoMML (Which makes for a horrible acronym), Sunday is the most obtuse film here. In keeping with (at least my experience with) French-Canadian cartoons, the short uses a kind of loose, exaggerated animation style that can be taken as childish or simple. The art of course is more deliberate and nuanced than that – it is nominated for an Oscar, after all – but it’s certainly not the most vibrant and appealing style to the unacquainted. Unfortunately I find the short equally difficult to appreciate in structure. There are some clever and amusing moments throughout, and the ending brings the short to a nice and satisfying culmination, but the rest of the 9-minutes feels incredibly thin due to the aforementioned visuals and the lack of dialogue/engaging music. This is my least favorite of the three.
“In 1909, a dapper young remittance man is sent from England to Alberta to attempt ranching. However, badminton, bird watching and liquor get in the way of cattle wrangling, and many misadventures ensue. A film about the beauty of the prairie, the pangs of homesickness and the folly of living dangerously out of context” – National Film Board of Canada
Wild Life is my favorite short here, and it may be purely subjective since I’m Canadian myself (Gasp!) but the story was just far more engaging to me than the other entries. The colorful brush stroke animation and the use of actual dialogue infuse the short with much more energy, and a less abstract story means it’s much easier to engage with. This is also by far the funniest one; Canadian humor is unique and hard to pin down, but this story about an Englishman failing to adapt to a harsh Canadian climate is full of it. I don’t think Wild Life will be the Oscar-winning animated short, but of the three here that I’ve seen, it would get my vote. What would get yours?