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Academy Awards 2011 -- Animated Shorts

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This year's animated shorts nominees include two children's cartoons, two non-U.S. entries noteworthy for their skillful and creative animation, and one political satire.

Day and Night (USA)
If you've seen Toy Story 3, you've probably seen Day and Night, the Pixar short that accompanied its showings. When the two characters representing Day and Night first meet, they are suspicious of one another and, being complete opposites, they even start fighting. But gradually they begin to appreciate one another's traits and even join together (sunrise and sunset). The message for children is straightforward: don't be afraid of people who are different from you. Just in case you don't get it, the producers bludgeon the viewer with a recording of self-help guru Wayne Dyer explaining that what is at first mysterious can be wonderful rather than scary. Still, the messages are good ones and no parent should hesitant to share the film with children.

The Gruffalo (United Kingdom/Germany)
Like Day and Night, The Gruffalo is a high-end, big budget short, with voices provided by the likes of Helena Bonham Carter, John Hurt and Robbie Coltrane. Based on the massively popular children's book by Julia Donaldson, it is another cartoon with a positive message for children. Two young squirrels race back to their nest just in time to avoid a predator. Their mother tells them a story to calm them down...and to teach them that even if you are little, you can survive by using your wits. The story concerns a mouse who, in search of an acorn, is threatened with death by a fox, an owl, a snake and a monster. There are no surprises here, but I found The Gruffalo thoroughly enjoyable. I'm a sucker for animated comedies in which the animals have expressive faces, and this one meets my standards. I urge parents to show the The Gruffalo to their kids.

The Lost Thing (Australia/United Kingdom)
Based on the children's book by Shaun Tan, The Lost Thing is a surrealistic journey about a young bottle cap collector who, while pursuing his hobby one day at the beach, comes across an enormous Thing that no one else seems to notice. The thing is half-machine and half living being. He takes it home, but his apathetic parents are not impressed. He tries to take it to the Federal Department of Odds and Ends, but when he gets there, a janitor tells him that if he really cares for the Thing, he should take it to a different, hard-to-find building. Some children may find The Lost Thing too slow and weird, but others will enjoy its world of fantastic machines with friendly personalities. Adults are more likely to appreciate its themes of feeling an outsider and losing the wonder of childhood.

Madagascar, a Journey Diary (Madagascar, carnet de voyage, France)
Madagascar, a Journey Diary is an impressionistic travelogue about a journey to the island of Madagascar and specifically to a remote village where the filmmaker, Bastien Dubois, attends an unusual ritual, Famadihana, in which the local people exhume the corpses of their ancestors. According to Dubois, after he completed the film, he returned to the village, hired a bus and drove the villagers to the nearest town with a movie theater. It was the first time the villagers had ever seen a movie.

Let's Pollute (USA)
Let's Pollute is a faux documentary produced by "Northsoutheastwestern University" that, in the style of a traditional school instructional film, extols the joys of polluting and encourages its viewers to pollute and waste more in order to increase corporate profits. I was surprised to discover that most of the reviews of Let's Pollute are hostile. Although they criticize the technique and accuse it of being either a "one-joke" bore or "liberal" propaganda, I suspect that the subject matter is a bit too close to home for some film critics. Just six and a half minutes long, it's worth watching to see what the controversy is about.