The Artist felt like such a revelation this time last year: Who’s making silent movies anymore? But this year’s crop of Oscar-nominated short films reminds us that animated is where the silence is happening. Every single one of these five beautiful short cartoons is all but silent — sound FX abound, and most have musical tracks, but there’s no dialogue beyond the odd grunt or harumph here and there. These are purely visual tales, gorgeous dollops of cinematic delicacies.
• “Fresh Guacamole” [IMDb] is a delicious appetizer, a quick hit scoop of stop-motion by filmmaker known as PES. With witty play on cooking and kitchen chores — this will change how you look at chopping up veggies — and unexpected visual puns right up to the cracking last moment, this is a brilliant little film.
• “Adam and Dog” [IMDb], by Minkyu Lee, almost turned me sour at first. It’s a new hand-drawn take on the Garden of Eden tale in which Man’s first companion is a sweet, curious mutt, and in spite of the cuteness of witnessing their devleoping relationship — they accidentally invent fetch! — I started to wonder at what it seemed to be saying. Is Man’s primary connection with dogs, not Woman? But I was won over in the end by a powerful refutation of the inhumanity of the Eden story and the irrevocable human connection to the natural world that this lovely story champions.
• “Head Over Heels” [IMDb], by Timothy Reckart, is a stop-motion-puppetry, gravity-defying romance about a couple who’ve drifted apart: the separate realms they inhabit, upside-down from each other within their house, is a startling metaphor for a broken marriage, and continues on to become a touching metaphor for compromise and healing.
• “Maggie Simpson in The Longest Daycare” [IMDb], which played theatrically before Ice Age: Continental Drift, is a five-minute mini episode of the long-running TV show, directed by David Silverman and written by a crew of Simpsons usual suspects. Will Maggie survive her day at The Ayn Rand School for Tots? It’s a bittersweet and very funny adventure amongst the tragedies of the smallmindedness and selfishness of the world, and the joy of small altruistic kindnesses. Rand would be horrified; we are heartened.
• “Paperman” [IMDb], which you will have seen in theaters before Wreck-It Ralph, is the best of the five, by a long measure, and the likely Oscar winner. From a script by Clio Chiang and Kendelle Hoyer, Disney director John Kahrs uses a new animation process that blends CGI and hand-drawn to create a tale with a black-and-white Mad Men aesthetic and a completely enchanting fantasy love story about a brief encounter on a train platform and what one young man does to pursue the magic it hinted at. This might be the most romantic movie of the year. And as with the best of Disney’s work, you may well sob with the wonderfulness of it. I did.
The theatrical program will also include three additional shorts that haven’t been nominated. “Dripped” [IMDb]. by Leo Verrier, is a trippy hand-drawn piece about an art thief who does some unusual things with the paintings he steals. Answers a question you may have wondered about: Can you get drunk on art? (Turns out you can.) “Abiogenesis” [IMDb], by Richard Mans, is a CGI sci-fi mini adventure about insectile robots that land on a primitive world for a grand mission. There’s a startling photorealism in both the organic and the machine designs; this could almost be live action shot on another planet. “The Gruffalo’s Child” [IMDb] is the most traditional cartoon of the whole bunch: it’s not only not silent but features an array of famous voice actors, including Helena Bonham Carter, Rob Brydon, Robbie Coltrane, James Corden, Shirley Henderson, John Hurt, and Tom Wilkinson. Based on the beloved children’s book, it’s the story about a “monster” child and her quest to find the “terrible” big bad mouse that lives in the snowy wood. It’s a charming adventure with a just-right level of scares for wee ones… who probably won’t be in the audience for Oscar shorts.
See the official site for showtimes and locations across the U.S., Canada, and Europe.