Article by Fred Patten via IndieWire.com
Every year Ron Diamond, the founder of Hollywood’s Acme Filmworks animation studio (specializing in animated television commercials), puts together an Animation Show of Shows, consisting of his pick of about a hundred minutes’ worth – a dozen or so — of the best animated short films of the year, from those shown around the world at international film festivals, for presentation at over forty major animation studios and schools in California, Oregon, and Washington (Disney, DreamWorks, Pixar, Sony Pictures, Illumination, ILM, UCLA Animation Workshop, San Jose State University, ASIFA chapters in Hollywood, Portland, Seattle, etc.), several East Coast states, and selected locations around the world. The winner of the following year’s Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film has often been included on an Animation Show of Shows program.
This year’s is the 16th Annual Animation Show of Shows, screening from September 15th for a little over the next month, with scattered screenings over the next few months. It presents eleven films running for 95 minutes this year, although it ran from 7:00 p.m. to 9:20 p.m. at this screening, due to Ron Diamond’s introductory comments, and a Q&A with Kristine Reed, the Disney producer of Feast, who stood up and spoke just after that short film. (Reed stood in for Torill Kove, the director of Me and My Moulton, whose attendance was announced but who was unable to come.) There is no 3D requiring glasses this year. This review is from the Show of Show’s screening for ASIFA-Hollywood at DreamWorks Animation’s Campanile Theater in Glendale on Thursday, September 18.
All eleven films are excellent, but the subjects and animation techniques are so varied that each viewer will doubtlessly have different favorites.
The Show leads off with Feast, directed by Patrick Osborne (6 min. 11 sec.) This is Walt Disney Animation Studios’ new short film, made as a combination of hand-drawn animation and CGI, to screen with Disney’s feature Big Hero 6 opening on November 7th. The comedy short relates the love affair of Winston, a pet Boston terrier, and his owner James, as seen by Winston through the lavish meals that the man gives his dog – until James’ new girl friend, Kirby, shows up to switch Winston’s meals to pretty but vegan sparse “California cuisine”. The Boston terrier figures how to object without breaking up his master’s romance. This was very cute and touching with lush, Disney-style animation in a slightly more angular art design, if a bit too obviously manipulative for an “awww” reaction. Osborne is the co-head of animation of Big Hero 6, and was the head of animation on Disney’s Oscar-winning short Paperman two years ago. Feast was first shown on June 10 at the 38th (2014) Annecy International Animation Film Festival (June 9-14).
Bang Bang!, directed by Julien Bisaro (11 min. 35 sec.), is a Caïmans Productions and Arte France coproduction in digital cartoon 3D animation that has been selected for almost two dozen film festivals from Colombia to Kosovo. It won a Special Jury Prize at the 17th Shanghai International Film Festival (June 14-22), and Best Animated Short Film at the 12th Imaginaria International Film Festival in Conversano, Italy (August 26-30). It is in French, subtitled in English, about Eda, an insecure young woman emotionally controlled by her powerful real-estate dealer/hunter father. She tries to protest against his smothering dominance, but he simply doesn’t listen to her.
For her 25th birthday, which is also the first day of hunting season, she learns that the expensive apartment that he has given her for a birthday present has been forcibly foreclosed from its former tenant. Furious, Eda flees, driving too fast through the countryside. A bright pink dog gets caught in her headlights, causing her to swerve into a ditch. Frightened by the strange animal, she escapes into the same woods where her father is hunting game. “A prey among other animals, Eda will have to find the strength to finally confront her father.” The film, which grows increasingly eerie, is in black-&-white except for the shockingly pink dog, implying that it is a supernatural creature. A darkly effective and disturbing mood piece, with a satisfying ending. Bisaro has worked on animated features as diverse as The Secret of Kells and Ernest et Célestine. Here, he exhibits a totally different art style, presumably his own.
Marilyn Myller, directed by Great Britain’s Mikey Please (6 min. 7 sec.), is a surrealistic look into the mind of a woman sculptor who wants not just her own works but the whole universe to show reality HER way. It’s in black-&-white stop-motion animation with “light trickery”. The technical synopsis: “A year in the making, the full six minute stop-motion short features the voice of Josie Long, one zillion hand carved tiny things, literally tens of carved foam puppets, two eyefuls of in-camera, long-exposure light trickery and a pair of tiny dolphins, smooching.” My opinion: Visually effective, but overly artsy-craftsy, even if that is its conscious point. The first half is an impressive but bewildering montage of godlike imagery, which turns out to be Marilyn Myller’s imaginings as she makes her fantasy sculptures. A visiting art critic persuades her to give a show to an über-intellectual audience, making delicate figurines and then cathartically smashing them. This proves to her approving audience the impermanence of art – or something. A selection of many film festivals, and winner of Best of Fest, Melbourne International Film Festival (July 31-August 17); the McLaren Award for Best New British Animation, voted by the audience, at the Edinburgh Film Festival 2014 (June 18-29); Best Short Film, British Animation Awards 2014 (March 7); Special Jury Prize, 49th (2013) Chicago Film Festival (October 10-24); and others.
Lava, directed by James Ford Murphy (7 min. 11 sec.) is Pixar Animation Studios’ new short film, which premiered on August 22 at the 15th (2014) Hiroshima International Animation Festival (August 21-25), but will not be released publicly until June 19, 2015 with Pixar’s feature Inside Out. Lava is the love affair between two Hawai’ian volcanoes, Uku and Lele, related in song by the Hawai’ian duo of Kuana Torres Kahele and Napua Grieg; and in CGI animation by the two anthropomorphized volcanoes. Murphy, Pixar’s head of animation, pitched his idea for Lava with a ukulele solo. Lava is beautifully made, lush and colorful, and you can tell that the Pixar team wanted to come up with something Different (with a capital “D”). The concept that there’s a mate for everything on Earth is a nice one, but anthropomorphized volcanoes are a new one on me.
Me and My Moulton (Moulton og meg), directed by Norwegian Oscar-winner (for the 2006 animated short The Danish Poet) Torill Kove, is a 13 min. 48 sec. co-production of Norway’s Mikrofilm AS and Canada’s Office National du Film du Canada. It is about a 7-year-old girl, the middle of three young sisters in 1960s Norway, who wish their avant-garde architect parents were more like “normal” parents. The girls’ homemade dresses look like they should hang in a contemporary art museum. When they ask for a bicycle like all the other children have, their parents delay to get them an imported Moulton bicycle from Great Britain, which may be very scientifically improved but looks funny. No matter; the girls realize that their parents love and want the best for them, and they can finally join their playmates. The traditionally hand-drawn 2D short, combined with CG, is very funny and sweet. It premiered at the 38th (2014) Annecy International Animation Film Festival (June 9-14), and has since appeared at many other international festivals from Cyprus to Canada. (It’s good, but I still like Kove’s 2000 My Grandmother Ironed the King’s Shirts best.)
365, directed by Greg & Myles McLeod (The Brothers McLeod), of Great Britain (6 min. 57 sec.), consists of 365 images hand-drawn on paper and animated by 2D computer, drawn one per day over one year. 365 also screened at the 38th (2014) Annecy International Film Festival (June 9-14), and was the winner of awards at the (15th) Animated Exeter 2014 (February 10-22), the (8th) Flatpack Film Festival 2014 (Birmingham, U.K., March 20-30), and the (14th) Melbourne International Animation Festival 2014 (June 19-29). The concept is ingenious, but the surrealistic film is plotless and quickly grows tiresome. The 365 images are dated by month, and I grew bored around the beginning of March.
We Can’t Live Without Cosmos (Mi ne mozhem zhit bez kosmosa),directed by Konstantin Bronzit of Russia (15 min. 19 sec.) at animation studio “Melnitsa”, is gently funny and touching, about two friends since childhood who join cosmonaut training together. They go through the rigorous training with an unfailing sense of humor. Both are selected, but one is chosen to be the cosmonaut while the other remains behind as the relief cosmonaut. When the first is lost in a space disaster, his distraught friend wants to join him. Also hand-drawn on paper and animated by 2D computer. Premiered at the 15th Hiroshima (2014) International Animation Festival (August 21-25), where it was nominated for the Grand Prix; also a selection of the 38th Ottawa (2014) International Animation Festival (September 17-21).
Duet, directed by Glen Keane (3 min. 43 sec.), is a personal hand-drawn project by the recently-retired Disney animator (the creator of The Little Mermaid’s Ariel, Beauty and the Beast’s Beast, the title character of Aladdin, and many others to Tangled’s Rapunzel) to demonstrate what can be done by one animator with today’s technology. Keane animated as well as directed every frame himself (although the credits list a full range of producers, music composers, etc.) The awesome Duet is the wordless romantic story of two youths, Mia and Tosh, from their birth to their adulthood. Keane debuted it at the Google I/O 2014 conference in San Francisco on June 25-26, along with a lengthy how-I-made-it presentation (not included here), as part of Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects program, along with Regina Dugan, the ATAP head.
Hunger, directed by Petra Zlonoga of Croatia (6 min. 4 sec.), tells the story of “hunger” through traditional watercolor. The official synopsis is: “Everything that is alive is hungry; seeds are hungry for light, birds are hungry for flight, man is hungry for the touch of another. The seed of longing grows into what feeds us.” The beginning, the growth of seeds, is clear enough, but Hunger becomes increasingly abstract with the hatching and flying of birds, and the bizarre images of men touching. Hunger was the winner of Best Documentary at the 12th Tabor (Croatia) International Short Film Festival (June 10-15). “This is truly a poetic film. The jury was impressed by the imaginative journey that we were taken through. A very powerful vision of life.” It was also a selection of the Animafest Zagreb World Festival of Animated Film (June 3-8), and the 15th Hiroshima (2014) International Animation Festival (August 21-25), and is scheduled for the (21st) KROK International Animated Films Festival, Moscow and five other cities in Russia, September 29-October 6.
The Bigger Picture is written and directed by Great Britain’s Daisy Jacobs (8 min. 0 sec.), who seamlessly blended the 2D animation and the stop-motion-animated 3D seven-foot tall puppets. It is difficult to tell where the 3D puppets and the hand-drawn animation fold into each other. “The story chronicles the dry and dark difficulties of two brothers as they ambivalently care for their aging mother.” Parents growing old and needing the increasing care of their adult children is a timeless story, told here with warmth and visual imagination. It was the 15th Hiroshima (2014) International Animation Festival (August 21-25) Grand Prix winner, winner of the Crystal for a Graduation Film at the 38th (2014) Annecy International Animation Film Festival (June 9-14), winner of Best Film at the (12th) Fantoche 2014 Festival for Animated Film (Baden, Switzerland, September 2-7), and winner of five other awards from Cannes to Edinburgh, plus a selection of over a half-dozen more international film festivals.
Hipopotamy, directed by Piotr Dumala at Poland’s Fumi Studio (12 min. 30 sec.), is a black-&-white wordless story of primitive innocence and lust. The catalogue description of the current 38th Ottawa (2014) International Animation Festival (September 17-21) is, “A few naked women and children are bathing in a river. They are being secretly observed by a group of men, who decide to approach them in a violent manner, as if inspired by the behaviour of hippopotamuses.” I don’t know about hippopotamuses, but it is well-known that when new male lions take over a pride, the first thing the new males do is to kill the existing cubs so the females will be receptive to breeding more with them. Also hand-drawn on paper in the style of classic Greek or Roman statuary, and animated by 2D computer. First shown at the 54th Krakow Film Festival (May 25-June 1, 2014). Hipopotamy was also at the 24th Animafest Zagreb 2014 (June 3-8) where it won a Special Mention; the 38th (2014) Annecy International Animation Film Festival (June 9-14); the 7th Animator International Animated Film Festival in Poznan, Poland (July 11-17) where it won the Special Award “Wojciech Juszczak”; the 13thCountryside Animafest Cyprus (July 17-19); the 12th Cinefiesta (Festival Internacional de Cortometrajes de Puerto Rico) in Caguas, Puerto Rico (July 20-27) where it won Best Animation; and the 15th (2014) Hiroshima International Animation Festival (August 21-25). It has been selected for others in coming months, from Bosnia & Herzegovina to Mexico.