I have to recuse myself from giving objective opinions of this year's animated shorts nominees because one of them, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, is so close to my heart that I'm not a proper judge of the others. First, here's a look at the other four.
La Luna (USA)
This year's entry from Pixar, La Luna is a coming-of-age tale about a little boy who is allowed to go out in a rowboat on a moonlit night with his father and grandfather. To his surprise, they hoist a ladder and climb up to the Moon, which is covered with golden stars that the three of them proceed to rake and sweep. Dad and Grandpa are always bickering. The little boy tries to emulate them both, but in the end he finds his own way. The story concludes with a great visual punch line. La Luna is due to hit the big screens in June, accompanying the animated feature Brave.
A Morning Stroll (United Kingdom)
A man walking down the street encounters a chicken, who waddles up some steps, knocks on a door and disappears inside. A Morning Stroll portrays this encounter three times -- in 1959, 2009 and 2059. Let's just say that it does not present the most optimistic vision of the advance of civilization. As with La Luna, it has a good punch line.
The stalwart of short filmmaking, since 1941 the National Film Board of Canada has produced 12 Academy Award winners and 48 other nominees, including two this year. The first, Dimanche, is about a little boy who accompanies his parents on an obligatory Sunday visit to church and then to his grandparents. If you're looking for a sweet or sentimental film to show the kiddies, this is not for you. Animals keep getting killed; the men get drunk; and the women gossip and treat the little boy like a household pet. Since I wasn't looking for a sweet short for the kiddies, I enjoyed it.
Wild Life (Canada)
The other entry from the National Film Board of Canada, Wild Life is about a young Englishman in 1909 who defies his family and travels to Alberta to become a cowboy. He does not fit in, but he continues to send letters back home giving a false, rosy picture of his experiences. When winter arrives, his situation takes a turn for the worse. Nice animation and some fine Alberta humor, but for me this was the least interesting of the nominees.
The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore (USA)
The hero of The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore has the eyes of Buster Keaton and the mouth of William Buckley. He is a bookworm who is swept away by a tornado (the film was produced in Louisiana) and finds his way to a house filled with books. These books are alive and become his close companions for life. Some are old and some are new, but they all have something to offer. They help him and he helps them. Along the way, he writes a book of his own and leaves it behind for future bookworms.
As I said, the message of The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore is too close to my own experience for me to be objective. I grew up in a home with books in every room. My parents were always reading. They seemed to gain such pleasure from it that I asked them to teach me to read before it was taught in school, which my mother did. These days I do most of my reading online. And yet, every single day I spend time reading a book. Whenever I go out, I bring a book with me in case I get stuck somewhere. As for writing, once again I do most of it online. Still, 2012 marks the 40th anniversary of the publication of my first book, and this year I will have two more published.
When I look at the shelves of books that I have read, I feel like Morris Lessmore... I see rows of friends. The authors may have died long ago, but for me they're still alive.