With the 80th Academy Awards now two days away, everyone nominated is starting to sweat?everyone except the stars of the short, animated films, that is.
The stars of the 2008 nominees for Best Animated Short Film include a clever old man, two angsty Russian boys, and none other than John Lennon. The five short films are extremely unique but are closely linked by their underlying theme of dark humor.
A nominee from Canada is "Madame Tutli-Putli." A film that took almost three years to produce, it is the story of a fragile woman who boards the night train with all her belongings and embarks on a journey through imagined worlds, accompanied by spirits and darkness.
A stunning display of puppetry, it is the eyes of the main characters which are the most impressive. Incredibly realistic and expressive, the film team painstakingly superimposed human eyes, which were rehearsed to follow the exact movements of Madame Tutli-Putli, onto the puppet. There is no dialogue in this film and all feelings are expressed through body language and facial expression. This is most definitely the most morbid of the five films and creepy enough to leave a lasting impression.
Next up is "M?me Les Pigeons Vont Au Paradis" ("Even Pigeons Go To Heaven"). This French film is the story of a sinful old man who, at the end of his life, is visited by a priest trying to convince him to sign a contract to heaven. A dark comedy, the priest tricks the old man into signing by displaying his "heaven machine" which is an elaborate ruse to convince the old man that he has been to heaven and back. At the end of the short, the old man, confronted with the grim reaper, gruesomely allows the priest to be taken in his place. An amusing, if disturbing, plot, it is enjoyable throughout. Although the computer animation is not the most interesting, overall the film is worthy of a chuckle.
If the Oscar recipient were being judged solely on animation technique, then the third film, "Moya Lyubov" ("My Love"), would win hands down. Created by animator Alexander Petrov using oil paints on glass, this film is completely entrancing. The story is of a young Russian teenager who struggles with his love for two different women. The plot line is a bit confusing and is overshadowed by the miraculous visual effects. A beautiful soundtrack completes the stunning effect of the movie, and although the story is weaker than the others, this short is a very prominent contender for the Academy Award.
Another story out of Russia appears in the fourth short film. An adaptation of Sergei Prokofiev's "Peter and the Wolf," the film of the same title focuses on Peter's motives for capturing the wolf. Revolving around a cast of some very adorable animal puppets who fall prey to the vicious wolf, this movie will tug on the heartstrings. Like "Madame Tutli-Putli," there is no dialogue and everything is conveyed through facial expression. Both funny and sad, this movie touches on traditional children's fables. The original score from "Peter and the Wolf" brings a familiarity to the story and the characters right from the beginning and will have audiences humming along.
The final short film is definitely the most interesting and the most surprising. "I Met the Walrus" features the voices of the legendary John Lennon and 14-year-old Jerry Letvin. The short is an animated cartoon set to an interview that Letvin taped with Lennon in 1969. Drawing upon themes of war, peace, and independence, Lennon insists that real freedom comes from living your life to the fullest, not from protests or striving to change the world. With clever illustrations provided by cartoonist James Braithwaite and computer graphics inserted by Alex Kurina, this movie is the most original and inspiring, both conceptually and intellectually.
With five very worthy candidates, Sunday's awards will be an interesting test of the Academy. These films all bring different aspects of animation and storytelling into focus and no matter which wins, they are all entertaining and intriguing in their own way. The 80th Annual Academy Awards are Sunday, February 24. The show begins at 8 p.m. on channel 8. Jon Stewart of Comedy Central's "The Daily Show will be the evening's host.