If you go to the Katharine Cornell Theatre on Saturday to watch the five Oscar nominees for Best Animated Short, it won't matter very much who the winner was. All the nominated shorts presented by the Martha's Vineyard Film Society are state-of-the-art animations, and all are winners.
Employing 3-D computerization, stop-motion animated figurines, and pastel painting on glass, among other technologies, the films leave our old cartoon impressions of animation in the dust.
The shortest entry, only five minutes long, is, "I Met the Walrus," a Canadian entry by Josh Raskin, based on Toronto teenager Jerry Levitan's 1969 audio interview with Beatle John Lennon.
Mr. Levitan talked his way into Mr. Lennon's hotel room and interviewed him about peace and nonviolence. Mr. Raskin's animated drawings work well paired with the recorded questions and answers. Don't blame the government for war, Lennon counsels, because we are the ones who allow it to happen. Simple, sometimes naïve questions and sketches are followed by honest, straightforward answers - ironically suited to our darker, more complicated world almost 40 years later.
A French entry by Samuel Tourneux, "Even Pigeons Go to Heaven," tells the tale of a con-artist priest who wants to sell a contraption that will send an old man straight to heaven. Mr. Tourneux utilizes sophisticated and trendy 3-D computerization, and puts to good use the aesthetic of simplification characteristic of traditional cartoons. The Jules Verne-like heaven transporter he creates comes alive, and works well in combination with the wonderfully expressive human faces.
Perhaps the film most talked about by critics is "Madame Putli-Tutli," a Canadian stop-motion short about a timid, depressed young woman on a train ride to hell. Directors Chris Lavis and Maciek Szczerbowski capitalize on the anything-goes mentality of animated storytelling, where reality puts no limits on imagination.
Madame Putli-Tutli's scary traveling companions act like escapees from a Halloween fun house, and her train ride turns into a full-fledged animated nightmare. Part of the appeal of this film is the rough close-up quality up of its cloth figurine characters, where faces lack the smoothness of real skin and there may be intentional - and intriguing - gaps between a hand and an arm.
Aleksandr Petrov's work has been nominated for Oscars four times in the animated shorts category, winning in 2000 for "Old Man and the Sea." Relying on the under-used technique of painting on glass with pastel oils, Mr. Petrov bases "My Love" on a 19th-century Turgenev story about an adolescent boy struggling with his erotic and romantic fantasies about women.
The imagery and palette in "My Love" could pass for an Impressionist work by Renoir or Monet. But far from turning the boy Tonischka's struggles into a saccharine pastiche, Mr. Petrov has packed elements of class division, sexual predation by men and women, and murder, as well as love, into 25 minutes.
The longest entry, at just more that 32 minutes, is British director Suzie Templeton's rendition of "Peter and the Wolf." Working in collaboration with a Polish production team, Ms. Templeton relies on Prokovieff's score, created to teach children about music, to tell a story without narration.
Surly young Peter is trapped in his grandfather's modern, if dilapidated, Russian compound. Although Ms. Templeton creates a hero with the oversized blue eyes that have become an artistic cliché of childhood, Peter's fascinating orbs reflect nothing like childlike innocence. Like a good actor, they steal every scene in which they appear.
Companions to Peter include a goose, a crow with a broken wing, and a frequently malevolent cat. Together, they turn the story into an exploration of environmental violence and justice. Ms. Templeton gracefully walks the line between depictions of cuddly animal friends and hard-edged forms of animal life, particularly in the eponymous wolf that shows up toward the end.
Part of the pleasure in watching these innovative and often brilliant evocations of imaginary worlds comes through their variety. And whether or not you are interested in the technical frontiers of animation, you are bound to enjoy the storytelling in these five delightful tales.
Oscar Nominated Shorts Program, Saturday, March 29, 7:30 pm, Katharine Cornell Theatre, Vineyard Haven. Tickets $8; $5 for Martha's Vineyard Film Society members. Doors open at 7 pm.
Freelance writer Brooks Robards contributes book and film reviews to The Times.