Some good news and bad news. The bad? Oscar-nominated docs won’t be playing in Spokane this year. The good? You can still see the animated and live action shorts starting this week at the Magic Lantern Theatre. Don’t pretend that you didn’t just want to see the cartoons anyway.
This year’s nominee pool features two animation heavyweights, a YouTube sensation and a giant helping of schmaltz. Perhaps the most visually arresting of the bunch, “Adam and Dog,” features hand-drawn characters sauntering in and out of beautiful watercolor scenes. True to its title, “Adam” goes biblical as it tells what some would say is the very first story of man’s best friend.
In what may very well be a claymation perversion of Up, “Head Over Heels” tells the story of an elderly couple with some relationship trouble. Not only have they grown more distant emotionally, they are physically separated by a little gravitational twist that leaves one’s floor as the other’s ceiling. The other love story of the bunch, “Paperman,” is a classic tale of boy meets girl, girl runs off, boy tries to get her attention across a busy Manhattan street using paper airplanes. And it wouldn’t be a Disney flick if magically-sentient inanimate objects didn’t lend a helping hand.
The Simpsons scored its first Oscar nomination this year with Maggie Simpson in “The Longest Daycare.” The plot follows television’s youngest 20-something, Maggie, as she struggles through her first day at Ayn Rand’s School for Tots. The short has plenty of the tongue-in-cheek humor that The Simpsons has perfected over the years, with a few sight gags thrown in to boot.
The outlier of the bunch is “Fresh Guacamole,” a unique stop-motion piece by the Internet-famous animator known as PES. I’ll just say that grenades, baseballs and dice never looked so delicious.
Four of the five live action nominees come to us from across large bodies of water, but don’t let the subtitles deter you. These shorts are as poignant and entertaining as anything in our native tongue.
“Buzkashi Boys” tells the story of two young friends struggling to accept their lot in life. Ahmad, an orphan living on the streets of Kabul, and Rafi, the son of a blacksmith, each dream of playing Buzkashi, a kind of polo played with a dead goat instead of, you know, silly hats and croquet mallets. Rafi seems resigned to take up his father’s mantle until Ahmad steals a horse and challenges Rafi’s outlook on life.
Another coming-of-age tale of sorts, “Asad,” follows the film’s titular character, a young Somali boy, through a couple days in his war-torn East African village. Since Asad is too young to join his village’s pirates on a raid, he is reluctantly recruited by old man Erasto to try his hand at fishing. Though the fishing trip doesn’t go as expected, Asad learns that sometimes hope manifests itself in unexpected ways.
In what is easily the most heart-wrenching of the bunch, “Henry” is the story of a pianist who begins reliving old memories after he is abducted by a strange woman. The power of the story only increases once the conceit is discovered, making this a film that, ironically, sticks with you long after it’s viewed.
Filling this year’s creative sci-fi slot is “Death of a Shadow,” a story about a dead man who collects the shadows of the deceased at the moment of their death (with the help of various delightfully steampunk-y gizmos) in order to earn his own second chance at life.
“Curfew,” the only English speaker of the bunch, follows drug addict Richie as he reconnects with his estranged niece, Sophia. Though this short cribs a bit from other popular indie fare and the cute, precocious kid thing is nothing new (ahem, Jonathan Lipnicki), “Curfew” pulls it all off with gusto.