This year's Oscar-nominated animated shorts from four different countries spotlight an eclectic bunch of characters that includes a priest as snake-oil salesman and John Lennon.
The shorts, ranging from seven to nearly 40 minutes, are being shown in a program opening today at the Landmark Theatres Harbor East. Distributed by Magnolia Pictures, the program offers a rare chance for movie fans to develop a rooting interest in one of Oscar's more obscure categories.
My Love (Moya Lyubov): The most beautiful and most visually challenging of this year's nominees is from Russian animator Alexander Petrov. Working with painted-on-glass cels, Petrov weaves an enchantingly seductive tale of an 18th-century boy torn between two first loves: one a free-spirited orphan, the other a more experienced, more sophisticated woman. The film comes across as a series of water-color paintings come to life, with the glass backgrounds adding a shimmering, almost ethereal effect.
Even Pigeons Go to Heaven (Meme les pigeons vont au paradis): French animator Samuel Tourneux's short is the funniest of the bunch, a seven-minute exercise in gullibility and poetic justice. The short features a con-artist priest trying to sell a machine to an old man worried about the afterlife. The machine, the priest assures, will take him to heaven for a sneak preview of where he's headed.
Madame Tutli-Putli: From animators Chris Lavis and Maciek Szczerbowski, the French-Canadian short focuses on a train ride into the melancholy soul of a frightened woman. Without using any dialogue, the short offers an ultimately transcendent peek into the cost of being alone.
Peter and the Wolf: From British director Suzie Templeton, this short offers a stop-motion take on Sergei Prokofiev's 1936 masterpiece, a staple of orchestras everywhere. Templeton adds a handy blue balloon to this tale of a young boy, an adventurous duck and a hungry wolf.
I Met the Walrus: The program wraps with this delightful throwback, at five minutes the shortest of the animated nominees. Using a tape recording made in 1969 of a 14-year-old boy's brief encounter with John Lennon, the short, from Canadian animator Josh Raskin, reminds us of what a gentle soul Lennon could be ("Whatever you do, just do it for peace," he tells the teenager). It also, through a series of line drawings that morph into one another, captures the spirit of an earlier piece of wondrous animation, the Beatles' classic Yellow Submarine.