If a movie collection's success depends on satisfying diverse cinematic needs, the Academy Award Nominated Animated Short Films, running from March 10 through March 16 at the Shattuck Cinema in Berkeley, exemplifies that success.
The most complex and beautiful film in the program is an adult fable called The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello, the DVD is available beginning March 15.
Jasper, a guilt-ridden navigator who journeys into uncharted territories to save his plague-infested hometown, tells a pure steampunk tale. Steampunk concerns works set in the past, or the fictitious past and is often associated with cyberpunk. He lives in a free-floating Victorian society that retains its era's mentality but features steam-powered sky ships and computers as well as perpetual motion devices.
The voice acting fits the narration, which is reminiscent of Edgar Allan Poe, and delivers a haunting tale that explores moral duty and personal sacrifice.
The animation and cinematography are breathtaking, and its surrealistic imagery is unprecedented. The characters are silhouettes set against vast sepia-toned backdrops with certain items highlighted in silver, red or blue – think Japanese shadow puppets crossed with Sin City. This color scheme combined with the ever-present images of spinning gears, clocks and strange levers draws the viewer into this parallel world.
This Australian film, directed by Anthony Lucas, is visually and stylistically the worthiest picture out of the Academy Award nominees.
The actual Oscar winner is The Moon and the Son: An Imagined Conver-sation, which uses various drawings, photographs and home videos to render an interpretation of the animator's strained relationship with his father.
The animator, John Canemaker, is apt at powerful storytelling. It is easy to sympathize with his confusion over his father's criminal behavior; however, the story resembles a psychoanalysis session and is almost too personal to witness.
Though the animation was well done, the sheer number of techniques displayed gave the impression that this film was a resume for all of the animator's abilities. More consistency in the drawings would increase the stability of the film.
CGI reigned in 9, directed by Shane Acker. This mode of animation created fluid motion, and gave the faceless characters a full array of expressions.
The film lacks the narrative complexity of the previous two nominees, but it exudes mystery in its dialogue-less story: a burlap doll named 9 roams a wasteland that is reminiscent of the desert in Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome and attempts to free his friends' souls from a mechanical beast's eyes.
The least satisfying film is Badgered, by Scottish director Sharon Colman. This short is the most simplistic of the films, but it still carries some surprises. No one expects this children's cartoon about a badger trying to sleep to suddenly turn into a nuclear satire.
Aside from shaky hand-drawn animation, the story's major problem was the lack of a compelling protagonist. Only when the badger accidentally detonates missiles while using the launch buttons as a ladder to his hole does he as protagonist command much attention.