Animation has come a long way from Walt Disney’s Steamboat Willy, the black and white prototype that later became the world’s most famous mouse. The immense popularity of television shows like the Simpsons has demonstrated that cartoons aren’t just for kids any more, while advances in computer generated graphics have introduced a stunning new standard for big screen visuals. The nominees for the Animated Short Films category at the 2009 Oscar awards represent the very best work the world has to offer, in an industry that is fast approaching a golden age.
Unfortunately, unless you’ve traveled to dozens of film festivals around the world, you probably missed the opportunity to experience these works of art. Unless, of course, you manage to crawl out of your Vineyard February hibernation and get to the Katharine Cornell Theatre this Sunday, March 1, at 7:30 p.m., where the Martha’s Vineyard Film Society’s Richard Paradise has generously gathered all the 2009 animated Oscar shorts, plus a few more, for your viewing pleasure.
Pixar’s Presto, about a pompous stage magician and his uncooperative rabbit, is perhaps the most well known of the films, as it was attached to last summer’s futuristic robot saga WALL-E, the winner of the best full-length animated feature Oscar. Pixar is a prolific producer of shorts, and Presto is easily one of their best, combining classic slapstick comedy with the unconventional physics of the cartoon world.
Swimming in from France is a computer-animated love story, Oktapodi. This romantic comedy, featuring a star-crossed pair of octopi hurled into a high-speed chase through a small French fishing village, is sure to appeal to all ages, though it might prove a little precious for some pre-adolescent boys. Some day, though, they’ll understand.
In addition to Oktopodi, there is a second film set in France, but this time the animation is coming out of Japan. La Maison en Petits Cubes is a more melancholy affair, hand drawn in the classic two dimensions, and very much artistically driven. Set in a village where the homes are continuously being built up to avoid rising flood levels, the viewer follows the perspective of an old man as he uses scuba gear to dive into the now-submerged portion of his house to retrieve his smoking pipe, an act that triggers a flashback into the past, at which point the whimsical plot is suddenly revealed to be a haunting metaphor for memory.
Lavatory-Lovestory, from Russia, is about a female bathroom attendant and her secret admirer as they fumble toward love. The film offers a winning blend of bittersweet humor and simple, straightforward two-dimensional animation, along the lines of a newspaper comic strip.
The fifth short, England’s This Way Up, sees father-and-son pallbearers as they embark on an odyssey to deliver the dearly departed to their final resting places. The film is a small comedic masterpiece of the blackest sort, and steadily builds to a flamboyant finish while subtly exploring the morticians’ relationship with each other. In addition to the above five shorts, Mr. Paradise will be screening five other award-winning animations, with the entire length of the evening’s screenings clocking in at a neat 88 minutes. Doors open 30 minutes prior to the 7:30 p.m. screening time, and good seats are ensured for early arrivals. The cost of admission is $8; $5 for film society members. For details, call 774-392-2972 or visit mvfilmsociety.com.