There’s a new Pixar movie opening this weekend! This is exciting for a number of reasons, the biggest of which has nothing to do with Brave. Pixar flicks give mainstream audiences the lone annual opportunity to see a short film on the big screen. My personal favorite might be Day & Night, which played before Toy Story 3 two years ago, but this year’s short is definitely in the running. La Luna has already been nominated for the Best Animated Short Oscar, losing back in February to The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. Now that it’s attached to Brave, a much wider audience will get to experience the marvel of short form animation.
La Luna made its world premiere last year at the Annecy International Animation Film Festival, the world’s foremost event of its kind. Yet, as is so often the case, most of the beautiful work that plays every June at the French festival doesn’t make it to theatrical release. Features tend to find their way, and past winners of the Cristal (Annecy’s top prize) include Coraline, Fantastic Mr. Fox and Mary and Max. As for the shorts, it’s for us to find them online and appreciate them on our own screens.
I’ve rounded up some of the best to play the festival in the last few years, as well as an old gem from the early days of Annecy. Turn up the speakers, please click full screen, and enjoy.
Second Hand, by Isaac King
This delightful Canadian short, winner of the Audience Award at this year’s festival, is a clever twist on the neighbor-rivalry motif. Yet while Isaac King may have taken inspiration from Norman McLaren’s 1952 classic, the feel of this film is fresh and new. One neighbor, a tight-laced gentleman who lives alone, spends his time rushing about. He’s a slave to that more demanding “second hand,” the one on the clock. In the house next door are a dumpster-diving husband and wife, whose entire property is filled with rickety “second hand” goods. King emphasizes the excesses of both these lifestyles, while keeping a lightly ridiculous mood throughout. The blend of animation styles is also stellar, making a multi-layer process seem effortless.
Second Hand from Isaac King on Vimeo.
Love & Theft, by Andreas Hykade
Where Second Hand is witty and heart-warming, Love & Theft is trippy and almost nightmarish. Andreas Hykade jumps into the long tradition of surreal animation, mashing up the images of classic characters (Betty Boop, Hello Kitty, Bert & Ernie and others) into a constant trance of faces accompanied by bouncy music. Yet as the rhythms throb faster and become more sinister, so grows our sense of dread. It’s got the irony of 2009’s Oscar-winning cartoon Logorama alongside the reckless insanity of Dumbo’s “Pink Elephants” sequence. Yet while the hallucinations in that Disney classic are filtered through the lead pachyderm, this new fever dream feels like our own.
Trois petits points, by Gobelins, L’école de l’image
This petite French film manages to distill the entire emotional whirlwind of interwar Europe into three jazzy minutes of quick animation. Our hero is a young woman of the 1920s who can thread a needle with the best of them. After sewing up a wounded veteran of the First World War, she takes it upon herself to repair the whole continent by hand. The fast paced music of that roaring decade boosts her on as she seems poised to save the whole world with only some thread and an infectious smile. Yet it is not to be, as the black eagle of the coming disaster begins cutting its way out of her expertly mended work. Fast-paced, expertly drawn and intelligently scored, Trois petits points well deserves the Special Jury Prize it picked up in 2011.
The Eagleman Stag, by Mikey Please
A bit like Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, though infinitely less obtuse, this BAFTA winning short contains more significant images than most feature films. Mikey Please takes on the human dimensions of time itself, filtered through the narration of a particularly self-aware scientist. The screenplay alone would be worthy of praise (“I see infinity in a plyboard desert”), but the breathtakingly precise stopmotion animation is something else entirely. The initial concept is that as we get older, time feels less significant. A single day seems more important to a toddler than to a person of middle age. Yet what Please does with this simple kernel of a concept is both unexpected and inspirational.
THE EAGLEMAN STAG from Mikey Please on Vimeo.
Plato, by Léonard Cohen
While The Eagleman Stag uses creative animation to get at a larger philosophical concept, Plato is an investigation of the potential of geometry itself. A single two-dimensional figure is playing around with shapes, drawing squares and rectangles only to toss them away. His discovery of the cube, however, throws everything into chaos. Is this a 2D or 3D cartoon? How does this confused protagonist jump between the two, if he even can? And, perhaps most importantly, the eternal question: what’s inside the box? Léonard Cohen proposes rules only to break them a minute later, building a world of flexible mathematics that can just barely contain his imagination.
Plato from Léonard Cohen on Vimeo.
The Lion and the Song, by Bretislav Pojar
This wonderful example of classic puppetry won the Cristal in the very first edition of the Annecy Festival, back in 1960. Mentored by the legendary Jirí Trnka, Czech animator Bretislav Pojar is one of the masters of the Eastern European animation tradition. His work here is especially poignant, a surprisingly dynamic film with elements of both light musical joy and the dangerous darkness of the wilderness. Animals scamper to the charming sounds of the accordion, as Pojar compensates for his lack of plot with a great deal of meticulous style.