And so it has come to the last day of the Yellowknife International Film Festival (YKIFF). On a high note, YKIFF begins with a treat for the young and young at heart; the Oscar nominated animated short films of 2015. Though not all of these films are for kids, they are all still entertaining in their own way, from the adorable and innocent to the dark and surreal. I had already written about these short films when I wrote about this year’s Academy Awards. So this will be a reminiscence of these films.
We begin with a semi autobiographical comedy about 3 sisters and their eccentric, modernist parents from Torill Kove, the writer and director of the Oscar winning short The Danish Poet.
Set in 1965’s Norway, Kove tells a semi-autobiographical tale of 3 sisters, with the middle child serving as the narrator. They get along great, mostly because their grandmother pays them to not quarrel. And they long to be normal like their neighbors. The film personifies this longing through a bicycle. The girls want a bicycle they can ride together. The other kids have bicycles, so why not they?
They just have one problem, their eccentric parents. Residing in the upper level of a duplex, their parents are obsessed modernist architects who fill their home with Ikea-esque furniture. And when they ask for a bike, their parents have one shipped from England. The girls wonder why they need to ship a bike all the way from England when there are some perfectly good bikes here.
The narrator wishes their parents were more like their neighbors. She wishes her father could be more like the shirtless clean shaven father next door instead of the only local amongst 10000 men to have a mustache. She wishes her mother was more like the mother downstairs, a June Cleaver-esque housewife. But soon, reality steps in when the father next door leaves and never returns.
Kove has a simplistic style of animation to her films. In this case, it adds to the modernist style the parents crave. She also uses it to bring creativity to a scene. When the Father leaves work, you can see the girls running out of the house in a blueprint he draws. There is also a hilarious fantasy scene of Russians invading their house. The father says “He is a pacifist who will kill any Russian soldiers if they threaten his family.” And yet we see him struggling to use the gun, while his wife fires it with ease.
She also portrays family life with the eccentric humour similar to Wes Anderson. She has some great sight gags, including the girls always falling out of their three legged chairs, but most of the humour focuses on the personality of the characters, from the father confusing compliments (“You look like an installation at a contemporary art museum”) to the girls finding pleasure in creating footprints in the neighbour’s carpet.
But the film is never mean about it. Like Anderson, Kove treats these characters with deep affection. The girls love their parents and have no ill will to them. The parents are a bit odd, but they are mild-mannered and well meaning. The narrator does find a connection with her father through her drawing, which he hangs on the wall. And it is through the moulton the girls get that they gain a better appreciation of their parents.
And now we get to the short film that won the Oscar. Because it was shown before Oscar winning animated film Big Hero 6, it is also the short film nearly everyone has already seen.
The film centers on an adorable stray puppy looking for scraps. One night, a French fry drops right in front of him. And from that fry comes the sympathetic hand of a man, who immediately takes the Pup in as a pet. The Pup jumps for joy with all of the junk food and leftovers the guy feeds him. The montage of the guy feeding the pooch spaghetti and Cheetos are either going to be awed by the adorableness or worry that the dog’s health.
Fortunately, the guy gets a girlfriend who helps him switch to healthy food. This of course annoys the pup, who is now left with regular dog food. But then the couple has a fight and the Girlfriend leaves. The guy goes back to junk food, much to the joy of the pup. That is until he realizes how depressed the Guy is. So the Pup takes it upon himself to bring the two back together with the help of a garnish.
This film is the perfect example of telling a story with no dialogue. Through imagery and careful editing, Director Patrick Osbourne successfully conveys the process of character with ease. The animation uses the same animation style as Disney’s other Oscar winning short Paperman, CGI animation painted to look like hand drawn animation. The result is a more artistic look to the film and a throwback for fans of classical animation.
Pia is a young single woman who comes across a record with the title song. While enjoying an afternoon of pizza, Pia realizes the record has the ability to manipulate time. When she speeds up the record, the pizzas disappear. When she reverses it, they reappear. Astounded by her discovery, she decides to play around with it. What could possibly go wrong?
Written and Directed by Marieke Blaauw, Joris Oprins & Job Roggeveen, A Single Life spends three minutes rushing Pia forwards and backwards, first into motherhood, into back into childhood, then old age and so on and so forth.
In this brief film, the filmmakers manage to get a few sight gags, including Pia speeding the record so she can literally pop out a baby or when the record skips, causing the film to go Groundhog Day. But the song warns Pia to “slow down. Take it slow.” If only Pia had listened. A little warning, the ending takes a very dark turn.
This year, they previewed their short film (Otto), a comedy in which a little girl gets an imaginary baby brother only to lose him at a restaurant. And from what I can tell, a childless couple adopts the “baby.” I may be wrong about the last part due to the vague description. I would be interested in seeing it, though.
This is the most adult of all the short films and the most experimental. Here is a simple film about two brothers in conflict about how to deal with their elder mother, who is in need of extra care. Nick puts his life aside to take care of her. Richard is too busy with his personal life and wants to put her in a home.
For adults with elder parents, this situation is one they know all too clear. When their parents are no longer able to fend for themselves, they inevitably face that complicated dilemma of how to take care of her. Directors Daisy Jacobs and Christopher Hees make the wise choice of not taking sides. Instead, it allows each person to present their side of the story with empathy.
What makes the film stand out is the animation style. Referred to as “life-sized animation” by Hees, the directors take a white room, paint life-sized characters on the walls and surround them with props to make it look like a room. Whenever actors have to grab a prop, paper-Mache hands come out of the walls and grab them. They had to paint over the walls and then repaint the characters for each frame of animation. This means they have to paint and repaint the walls and create paper Mache body parts 24 frames per second for an 8 minute movie. That an estimated 11,520 frames per second of film. Just imagine the effort they had to put into it.
In between the sibling arguments and tender moments, Jacobs and Hees take plenty of time to provide some surreal visual gags. When Nick pours tea for his mother and her friend, the tea overflows and floods the whole room. But the most memorable gag in the film is when Nick tries to clean the house, only to accidently suck everything into the vacuum, including his mother.
Each short film serves as the perfect example of how to tell a story within a short period of time. Some even meet the challenge of telling the story without saying anything. Whatever your taste, there’s bound to be at least one you enjoy.
This list concludes with one of the two most kid friendly of the five, one of the most adorable character designs and one of the most heartfelt.
This film takes place in an Animal Crossing-like world of anthropomorphic animals living in a rural town. Towering over this little town is a giant dam, created to keep a mysterious darkness out. In charge of the Dam is our title hero, a young little pig, who always starts his mornings winding the windmill to blow the darkness away. And then he heads off to school, covered in soot.
No one shows him any appreciation for his efforts. In fact, he is often a target for bullies. And it has done a number on his self-worth, who sees no joy in sight. Not helping is the fact he lives alone.
His life changes when a fox joins him as a new student. When he witnesses the bullying, the Fox offers the Pig his sympathy. They develop a strong friendship through the Fox’s love of drawing. For the first time ever, the Pig feels joy in his life. But after taking another hard blow, the Pig now ponders whether it is worth saving a town that treats him so ill?
Having worked as art directors for Pixar, directors Robert Kondo and Daisuke Tsutsumi (Toy Story 3, Monsters University) uses an oil painting-esque animation style that gives the film look like chalk art brought to life. It captures the beauty of a rural town during sunset. And the character designs are adorable.
Pixar’s gift of storytelling seems to have rubbed off on Kondo and Tsutsumi. With the exception of narrator Lars Mickelson, the film uses no dialogue to tell its simple tale of bullying and friendship. Bullying is always hard to watch on screen and The Dam Keeper serves as a brutal reminder of how cruel kids can be. The adults aren’t any better, thumbing their nose at the Pig for being dirty. That being said, it’s all the more rewarding when the Fox offers his friendship. Before the academy awards, I thought this film was going to win the Oscar.
The show also presented a few honorable mentions. The first was Sweet Coccoon, a dark comedy from France about an overweight caterpillar trying to fit into an undersized cocoon. There’s slapstick comedy galore in this short. What distracts is the annoying sound the caterpillar makes, which gets on your nerves fast. I suspect the only reason this film was considered was the ending, which takes on a hilariously dark turn. The next is Duets, a beautiful, Disneyesque ballet of a girl, a boy and a dog dancing from childhood to dreams of ballet. It resembles the type of animated creativity you’d expect in Fantasia. The next is Footprints, a bizarre animated short of a man who follows the footprints of a strange creature. It’s a new film directed by Bill Plympton, an iconic animator with a unique animation style that follows the foot steps of Terry Gilliam’s animation on Monty Python’s Flying Circus while remaining his own style. The last film is Bus Story, a semi autobiographical look at a woman who achieves her dream of being a bus driver. Of course, murphy’s law is enforced. Like Plympton, director and narrator Tali has an animation style that’s all her own, though more cartoonish than her counterpart.