If the five short toons nominated for Oscars this year share anything, it’s an almost total lack of human voices. There’s a (pretty delightful) Simpsons short (originally produced for Ice Age: Continental Drift, so hopefully you haven’t yet seen it). The focus, however, is on Maggie, who at 24 (26, if you count the Tracey Ullman Show shorts), still can’t speak.
This rightly (and happily) makes the dominant mode of this quintet visual. Even Paperman, a rare stand-alone short produced by Disney (not Pixar), tells its story through action. B&W save for the hot red of its female lead’s lipstick, it finds a bottomless stack of corporate forms blowing through the wind, forcing two shy office monkeys into each other’s arms. It’s slight, but the look is nicely retro, even if it sticks with the studio’s penchant for women with unusually huge eyes.
Fresh Guacamole, from the group known as PES, is a striking and semi-inscrutable fit of Svankmajerian fancy, with tomatoes cut into dice and grenades housing avocado innards, producing a guacamole-gambling fusion dish. Only slightly less surreal, the British Head Over Heels finds an aging couple defying gravity by occupying both the floor and ceiling of a floating house, communicating barely, if at all. It’s an elegant metaphor for the grind of a longtime marriage, of being stuck together while tragically content to be lonesome.
The best of the lot is an even more devastating portrait of relationship muck. Adam and Dog performs a secular twist on Adam and Eve, only told from the perspective of a dog that befriends early man before he discovers women. Once he does, our non-anthropomorphized mutt is cast aside, dejected, forced to wander, hangdog, amongst filmmaker Minkyu Lee’s stunning eyesore vistas. Lee understands how color, landscape and shot selection—most of the images are “long shots” with dog and humans in the distance—reflect and tell us about character, all while affecting viewers’ mood. Despite being about man-dog love, this wonderful downer is a weirdly precise elucidation on the abandonment issues that crop up once one has been unceremoniously dumped. (M.P.)