Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:
Each year since 2009 my wife Anne and I have paid a visit to Keystone Art Cinema, the only fully dedicated art-film theater in Indianapolis, to view the big-screen release of the Academy Award nominees for Best Live-Action Short Film and Best Animated Short Film. Results vary each time and aren’t always for all audiences, but we appreciate this opportunity to sample such works and see what the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences deemed worthy of celebrating, whether we agree with their collective opinions or not. We like to do both sets as a one-day double-feature date, which gives us time between showings to look around the fashion mall connected to the theater, gawk at clothing, grab snacks, and buy a new piece of cookware from Crate & Barrel.
Next up: my rankings of this year’s five Animated Short Film nominees, from keenest to next-level deluxe keenest-of-the-keenest. As with this year’s Live-Action Short Film nominees, I was so impressed with the uniform brilliance on display that the quote-unquote “rankings” are very nearly arbitrary. These may or may not be uploaded to your usual streaming services at the moment, but their availability should widen in the near future. Links are provided to official sites where available if you’re interested in more info. Enjoy where possible!
Lou: The mandatory annual Pixar short, which none of us saw in front of Cars 3. The endearing story of a toy-stealing bully who ruins recess for a playground full of kids, until one thing stands in his way: the sentient “Lost and Found” box. Pixar can crank out solid vignettes in their sleep, but its place here doesn’t have the same vibe of “look, we had to nominate Pixar” as I’ve thought of a few past efforts. Maybe I’m biased, though — beyond the solid slapstick and the far-out Frankenstein’s junkpile of a main character, I loved the underlying parable about the redemptive joy to be had in giving freely of ourselves unto others.
Negative Space: A whimsical stop-motion adaptation of a poem by Ron Koertge in which a son connects to memories of his father by recounting everything Dad taught him about optimal luggage packing. Such a simple concept provided some valuable tips for us travelers while also illustrating how we can sometimes compartmentalize our psyches in the same complicated way that we cram our possessions into our limited home spaces, turning thoughts and experiences alike into multi-dimensional Tetris.
Dear Basketball: After composing a “Highly Commendable” short in the 2013 Animated Shorts program with “Duet”, former longtime Disney animator Glen Keane returns this time as a full-fledged nominee. Keane employs his free-flowing hand-drawn stylings to basketball superstar Kobe Bryant’s touching farewell address to the sport that was his childhood passion, his career, and his life. Featuring an equally sweeping score by the John Williams, it’s an all-star affair on every level, relatable for anyone who’s ever had to summon the courage to let go of a major part of themselves. It’s also one of the few nominees viewable in its entirety online legally for free.
Garden Party: A masterclass project of beautifully rendered photorealism by six French art students in which a wandering pack of frogs/toads stumbles onto an extravagant abandoned backyard and proceeds to relive Last Man on Earth, Night of the Comet, Zombieland, or whatever your favorite story is about left-behind hijinks in the absence of other humans. The animals have such goofy fun that the viewer struggles to shake off the denial when their surroundings begin to reek less of Wild Kingdom and more of The Last of Us. But human horror doesn’t mean quite so much to the obliviously hungry. In a world where nature continues despite our sins, life will find a way even when man doesn’t.
Revolting Rhymes, Part One: It’s the exciting return of Magic Light Pictures, the British studio that brought us previous honorees The Gruffalo, The Gruffalo’s Child, and Room on the Broom. This time their plan is an adaptation of several classic fairy tales as rewritten by Roald Dahl, but mashed up in a clever, Cinematic Universe way. Snow White, Red Riding Hood, the Big Bad Wolf, and other familiar fables cross paths in modernized fashion with tinges of brightly colored black humor. Nonetheless a surprising, subversive, wicked delight. Bonus points for exposure of how corrupt banking practices fester even in the world of anthropomorphic piggies.
New life is breathed into these old classics with a voice ensemble including Rose Leslie (Downton Abbey, Luther) as Red Riding Hood, Gemma Chan (cast this very week in Marvel’s Captain Marvel) as Snow White, Bertie Carvel (Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell), The Gruffalo‘s Rob Bryden, and, best of all, Dominic West from The Wire as the Wolf himself, narrating events in a grieving, unusually honest fashion. All the better to disarm you with.
When we saw “Part One” at the beginning, we assumed it was the first in a series of shorts that we’d be seeing more of in the years ahead. Tonight I learned that no, Revolting Rhymes is a self-contained two-parter. What we thought was an ironic twist ending on Part One was in fact a cliffhanger that leads into Part Two, which was not included. However, my happy ending is that both parts are now on Netflix! Closure shall soon be ours.
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Each year the theatrical Animated Short Film program also includes “Highly Commendable” bonuses to fill out the runtime to an acceptable length for the ticket price. Those contributions number four in all:
Petite Faim: A miniseries of silent slapstick bumpers between the other shorts, in which two animals seek weird food and hijinks ensue. Mostly harmless, occasionally pointless, but it’s very pro-fruit, for the health-conscious out there.
Weeds: A quick life-or-death struggle for a dandelion that just wants to live and replicate so that children around the world can enjoy its pretty yellow flower and its fluffy white seeds. Sure, it’s a parable for our never-ending battle to survive, to make a better life, and to see our legacy continued into generations beyond. But they had to go and pick a dandelion as their hero. This claptrap was obviously the work of renters who’ve never had to keep an actual lawn alive despite relentless undermining by these cunning parasites. On a scale of five stars I rate it six black holes. F-minus-minus. Negative-15 out of 10. Romanticizing this wretched lifeform is like that time the Olympics media coverage cozied up to Kim Jong-il’s sister. Yes, I’m BITTER about my lawn, thanks muchly for asking but not volunteering to help.
Achoo!: Fun, frivolous fable about Chinese dragons competing in a fire-breathing contest to see who can spew the most awesome flame designs. Naturally there’s a plucky little dragon trying to compete with the big guns. Spunk rules, bullying drools, and a cute punchline ends it with a smile.
Lost Property Office: Our hero has one job: mind an enormous lost-and-found booth and be ready to return anything to its rightful owner, should they bother to show up. When they never do, and by “they” we mean everyone, it’s up to one man to decide what to do with all that forgotten stuff. It’s sort of a moral flip-side to Pixar’s Lou (lost items in service to the needs of the many versus the whims of the one), but its Australian creators endow it all with a unique sepia-toned art-deco design that strikes my visual fancy in exactly the right way. In spots it qualifies as very light steampunk, which is nice.