Last week, the Motion Picture Academy announced its short list for the Best Animated Short category. The news got me thinking: how often do people these days think about animated shorts? If you showed a copy of the nominees list this year to the average person, I'd wager that most people would not recognize more than one or two of the entries.
Even as an aspiring animation professional, I haven't had the opportunity to see most of the nominees since they usually only make the rounds on film festivals and art house theaters, and Orlando is seriously lacking in both when compared to New York, Los Angeles, or Toronto. This troubles me because I love animated shorts. They are my favorite form of animation and the fact they they no longer occupy the same level of notoriety in the popular consciousness that they once did bothers me. Back in the Golden Age of Animation, shorts were a staple for the movie-going audience. Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny, Betty Boop, and Tom & Jerry, as well as many other classic cartoon characters, were born and reached their creative peak in theatrical shorts.
Disney and Pixar are perhaps the two best places for quality shorts to be made and get a reasonable amount of exposure. Both studios, under the leadership of John Lasseter, have encouraged artists to come forward with their pet project ideas and to use studio resources to make them a reality. Last year there was Enrico Casarosa's deeply personal La Luna from Pixar, and this year there is Disney's Paperman.
The short, directed by John Kahrs and playing in theaters before Wreck-It Ralph, is a sweet little boy-meets-girl story, but where it really succeeds is the visuals. A new blend of CG and traditional hand-drawn animation makes for a final product that has all of the expressiveness and artistry of traditional techniques, but also the depth and complexity of the new school. Still images (like the one at the top of this post) do not do the film justice. It must be seen on the big screen to truly appreciate its value. It is truly remarkable to watch, and I sincerely hope that it breathes some new life into more classical ways of producing animation.
There has been a growing trend in playing animated shorts before films. In the last year or so, it seems that most animated films have been preceded by some kind of short, be it Maggie Simpson in the Longest Daycare, I Tawt I Taw A Puddy Tat, or Paperman. Even TV seems to be gravitating towards shorter programming with many of Cartoon Network's shows now being broken up into 15-minute segments. Maybe studios are starting to see the viability of making shorts, and while we will almost certainly not be able to get back to the state of cartoon shorts were in their heyday, it's at least nice to see that they are starting to come back. Hopefully some of the wonderful shorts that were not released with major films will also one day find a way to reach a larger audience as well. Now all we need to do is get out and watch them!