Movie Review ~ The 2021 Oscar Nominated Short Films – Animated

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BEST ANIMATED SHORT

This category always manages to surprise me because of the range of tone and animation styles. While the other shorts categories can sometimes feel like they are checking off boxes to meet particular criteria, you never know quite what you’re going to get when the animated shorts come your way. Sure, now that PIXAR has moved into their Sparkshorts realm and is releasing a decent number of them you can rest assured they’ll start to feature heavily here but I’m not so sure they’ll dominate this category like they continue to do in Best Animated Feature. At least not this year.

Burrow (Directed by Madeline Sharafian)
Synopsis:
A young rabbit embarks on a journey to dig the burrow of her dreams, despite not having a clue what she’s doing. Rather than reveal to her neighbors her imperfections, she digs herself deeper and deeper into trouble.
Review:
This year’s Sparkshorts nominee from PIXAR was one I had already seen and thought was quite delightful, a cheeky little bit of fun following a rabbit that only wants to make a little home for herself but can’t seem to find the right place that’s also unoccupied. The more she tries for perfection, the worse she makes things for herself until she threatens to upend the balance of the community for everyone. As with the best PIXAR film, there’s a message here about working with others and the benefit of community in reaching your goals; working solo might be your mission but it might not be the wisest choice. With at least one eyebrow raising sequence, it’s not 100% kid friendly but they’ll probably blink and miss this quick moment.

Genius Loci (Directed by Adrien Merigeau)
Synopsis:
One night, Reine, a young loner, sees among the urban chaos a moving oneness that seems alive, like some sort of guide.
Review:
The animation in director Adrien Merigeau’s French language Genius Loci is fairly arresting, often showing the seams and lines used to produce the hand-drawn visuals and I wish the storyline were half as interesting as the look of the work. Deliberately surreal, the film follows a woman who seems detached from her daily life and also unsure of her place in the world. A nighttime flight of fancy takes her into a cityscape that welcomes her with a swirl of conceptual animated renderings, at times feeling like Merigeau and his team were using this as more of a demo/calling card showing their range of style than constructing a cohesive plot. Merigeau was an animator with the studio that gave us the Oscar nominated The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea and you can see that inspiration in some of the visuals, but it’s not enough to make the obtuse majority of Genius Loci shift into a focus worthy of an Oscar.

If Anything Happens I Love You
(Directed by Michael Govier & Will McCormack)
Synopsis:
Grieving parents struggle with the loss of their daughter after a school shooting. An elegy on grief.
Review:
I went back and forth about including the detail about the school shooting in the synopsis because I was wondering if it was better not knowing this detail going into Michael Govier and Will McCormack’s (Toy Story 4) immensely moving animated short. In the end, I decided to keep it in so you can decide for yourself if this is one you’ll be able to take (especially parents or educators) as it’s a highly effective and mature depiction of loss and grief related to an unthinkable tragedy. The animation is simple but the impact is mighty, maybe even stronger the second time I watched it. Through objects around the house and even damage done to walls, two parents that have drifted apart after their young daughter dies are reminded of the life their child led. The happy times come back like a comforting wave but are followed by the memory of the devastating event that robbed them of her future. It’s almost a miracle the story doesn’t sink under the weight of its melancholy and refuses to go totally maudlin or political. Mostly, it’s just a reminder of how lasting grief can often do more damage than the original inciting event.

Opera
(Directed by Erick Oh)
Synopsis:
The history, structures and rhythms of human history are seen through a glorious, massive pyramid. Written and directed by award-winning filmmaker and former Pixar animator Erick Oh, OPERA is an animation project that can be defined as a contemporary animated edition of the Renaissance fresco mural paintings.
Review:
Now this is one short that I find no review could do justice to. You sort of just have to see Opera and experience it for yourself. I will say this, I’m glad I was able to watch it at home so I had the option of rewinding it and/or watching it over again because there is so much detail going on in Erick Oh’s masterful work that you’ll be tempted to explore it more. As the camera slowly pans down a gigantic pyramid that shows the life cycle of human history (including creation, birth, love, work, war, death and so many many many more events) our eyes dart around trying to take it all in and being completely unprepared to do so. There’s simply not enough time to absorb all that is happening and I could see this being a coffee table book in some form, allowing further dissection over a longer period of time. I would love to see this one on a huge screen so the finer details could jump out even more.

Yes-People
(Directed by GÍsli Darri Halldórsson)
Synopsis: One morning an eclectic mix of people face the everyday battle, such as work, school and dish-washing. As the day progresses, their relationships are tested and ultimately their capacity to cope.
Review: Seems to me that Iceland had a fairly good year at the Oscars, what with Yes-People snagging a nomination here and “Husavik” from Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga also landing a nod for Best Original Song. That being said, the song has a far greater chance to win at the ceremony than this short which is just fine but nowhere near on the same level as several of the other nominees. Actually, it’s sort of unsettling the way these strange people from a small village apartment complex are animated, all either grumbling, bumbling, or stumbling through their day without speaking any real dialogue. It’s all very Nordic and likely went over like gangbusters in its native country but here there is some humor lost in the translation (of tone) and with the stop-motion animation feeling like it’s from fifteen years ago, the whole of Yes-People comes across as dated.

Final Thoughts
: A mix of styles populate our nominees this year but as is often the case, emotion will win out over everything and that’s why I’m calling If Anything Happens I Love You the easy winner in this category. Not only has it been well-received since its debut on Netflix in 2020 (even better than feature Oscar contenders like the no-buzz Netflix film Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom) but it plucks at the heartstrings without going overboard and I think voters will appreciate that. You can count Yes-People and Burrow out, as neither rise to the necessary volume to gain a foothold over their stronger competition. I could see some love going toward Genius Loci for its out of the box animation and contemporized devil-may-care approach to narrative storytelling but can’t honestly see a voter watching it and finding it more deserving than If Anything Happens I Love You. That leaves Opera which is a pretty genius piece and has Oh’s PIXAR cred as a bolster, though it’s eight minutes of relative silence that many older voters will probably be WTH-ing through. This category feels like an easy one to call.

Movie Review ~ A Wrinkle in Time (2018)

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The Facts:

Synopsis: After the disappearance of her scientist father, three peculiar beings send Meg, her brother, and her friend to space in order to find him.

Stars: Oprah Winfrey, Mindy Kaling, Reese Witherspoon, Storm Reid, Gugu Mbatha Raw, Chris Pine, Zach Galifianakis, Andre Holland, Levi Miller, Deric McCabe, Bellamy Young, Rowan Blanchard, Will McCormack, Michael Pena

Director: Ava DuVernay

Rated: PG

Running Length: 109 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (3/10)

Review: It was always going to be possible for any adaption of Madeleine L’Engle’s classic 1962 novel A Wrinkle in Time to get bungled on its way to the big screen. The deep ideas, meditational themes, and introspective characters didn’t exactly lend themselves to a sure-fire project that could easily be translated from page to film. I grew up with this book and it’s one of the few I’ve gone back to several times over the years. I’ve seen the previous television movie adaptation, performed in it onstage, and seen other theatrical productions over the years. So, full disclosure, this one was close to my heart.

When Walt Disney Studios acquired the rights to the novel and brought on red-hot director Ava DuVernay (Selma) to guide its development, my interest was piqued and my hopes raised. When DuVernay went on to assemble a cast of A-List stars there was another jolt of confidence brought on by the names and faces of actors that had previously chosen their projects wisely. Then a much-hyped debut of the first trailer got me thinking that the magic of A Wrinkle in Time would indeed survive and thrive.

So imagine how deflating it was to sit in an IMAX theater and watch what should have been a slam-dunk miss the mark entirely. Like, completely. Now I know that I may hold the source material as perhaps a tad more precious than I should, which would make any attempt to bring it to life an impossible bar to overcome. No, I actually went in with eyes wide open and arms outstretched ready to be transported off the ground only to be depressingly earthbound throughout.

Several years after her scientist father mysteriously disappears, Meg Murray (Storm Reid) is still struggling to adjust to his absence. Her mother (Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Beauty and the Beast) and younger brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) offer support but Meg has descended into a funk that’s robbed her of self-confidence and her spark. That all changes with the late-night appearance of flighty and flame-haired Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon, Home Again) who is the first arrival in the trio of ladies that will bring Meg, Charles Wallace, and Meg’s school friend Calvin (Levi Miller, Pan) on an adventure across time and space.

Joined by Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling, Inside Out) who only speaks in quotes and the grand Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey, Lee Daniels’ The Butler) the children explore Uriel, a world far distant from their own. There the Mrs’ reveal to the children that the universe as they know it is coming under siege from a being they call The IT which is an embodiment of evil. After a visit to The Happy Medium (Zach Galifianakis, Muppets Most Wanted) the kids must travel alone to the peculiar realm of Camazotz where they will come face to face with their fears, relying on their inner strength to battle the forces of darkness.

While the script from Jennifer Lee (Zootopia) and Jeff Stockwell remains fairly faithful to L’Engle’s novel, it fails to bring forth any wonderment or magic in the proceedings. A novel with themes of rebellion against societal norms and overcoming struggle with finding one’s own originality winds up being an overly talky self-help seminar that’s dreadfully dull. As a strong advocate for social change and equality, you can see why the tenets of the book had long held an appeal for DuVernay but she surprisingly struggles mightily with keeping her film afloat.

While she’s found a nice discovery in the bold Reid who turns in a confident performance, the rest of DuVernay’s troupe is largely made up of miscasting. Winfrey feels like she’s playing a version of herself, a wise, level-headed sage that speaks in new age-y proverbs and spends the first half of the movie 50 times the size of any other character. Witherspoon is badly out of place in the space-y role that Kaling would have been an infinitely better fit for. Kaling instead is relegated to reciting eye-rolling quotes including a downright groan-worthy one from Lin-Manuel Miranda near the film’s conclusion. Galifianakis is a woeful low-point and poor Michael Pena (End of Watch) is stuck playing a red-eyed denizen of Camazotz. As written, Calvin has even less to do with the action than in the book but Miller has a sweetly platonic chemistry with Reid that works nicely. As Meg’s missing dad Chris Pine (The Finest Hours) may wear the cardigan of a scientist studying time travel but he won’t convince you otherwise he’s cracked a science book in the last decade.

For a movie from this family-friendly studio and adorned with a hefty-budget, the filmmakers seem to not understand who exactly the movie is for. It could have been pitched to mid-teens just fine but there’s so many silly elements and goofy developments that it feels like a wide net was cast. When Witherspoon turns into what looks to be a fantastic piece of flying lettuce and takes the kids for a ride through a field of humming flowers, you may wonder if any focus groups were even brought in to steer this one back on course.

A Wrinkle in Time spawned several sequels involving Meg and her friends but if this labored effort is any indication of the thematic future of the series, I hope significant time is spent smoothing out the wrinkles of the lessons learned here. Every person involved with this picture is capable of so much more than what was delivered – the first real disappointment of 2018.

The Silver Bullet ~ A Wrinkle in Time (2018)

Synopsis: After the disappearance of her scientist father, three peculiar beings send Meg, her brother, and her friend to space in order to find him.

Release Date: March 9, 2018

Thoughts: Madeleine L’Engle’s celebrated 1963 novel has been on my bookshelf for years and holds a special place in my heart.  I’ve seen high school productions of it (and been in one myself) and made it through most of a 2003 made for television film that couldn’t capture the energy of its source material.  Now comes a new adaptation from one of the writers of Frozen directed by one of the most exciting filmmakers working today.  Ava DuVernay (Selma) has assembled a dynamite A-List cast and, from the look of things in this first teaser, a damn fine film.  Starring Oprah Winfrey (Lee Daniels’ The Butler), Reese Witherspoon (This Means War), Mindy Kaling (This is the End), Chris Pine (Into the Woods), Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Beauty & the Beast), newcomer Storm Reid, and Zach Galifianakis (Keeping Up with the Joneses) as The Happy Medium, this is one page to screen adaptation I’m welcoming with open arms.