An animated evening at Katharine Cornell
Back in the dark ages, going to the movies meant watching a few cartoon shorts before the main feature. Now audiences get ads instead. But this Sunday night, March 1, will be an exception, when the Martha's Vineyard Film Society (MVFS) presents an entire evening of animated shorts at the Katharine Cornell Theatre, including those nominated for an Oscar. Interestingly, none of the five Academy Award entries have dialogue.
The Oscar-winner, "La maison en Petits Cubes," is by Japanese animator Kunio Kato, who takes the viewer on a fantasy trip about an old man who lives in a house that seems to be slowly submerging in water: A statement about global warming; a comment on the Three Gorges dam in China?
This old gent finds an interesting way to cope with the flood, and his house becomes a way of exploring or reliving his past. Underwritten by a French production company, it feels more French than Japanese.
The one American-made cartoon nominated, "Presto," by Doug Sweetland, comes from Disney. Its plot revolves around a hilarious series of pratfalls between a magician and his resentful rabbit assistant. As you might expect from Pixar, the animation is first-rate.
From Russia comes "Lavatory Love Story," a fable about a lonely men's room attendant who happens to be a woman. The images are drawn very simply in black and white with a few surprise splashes of color that work very effectively to make a statement about how even mundane lives need a little romance.
It took six directors to create "Oktapodi," the shortest of the five Oscar entries. Set on what looks like the Greek island of Santorini, two octopuses, a boy and girl who are heading for a restaurant's blue-plate special, escape from a delivery van. A very colorful chase, a bit like a cat-and-mouse game, follows.
Last, but not least comes the BBC-produced "This Way Up." Directed by Adam Foulkes and Alan Smith in computer animation, it uses black humor to turn two gloomy-looking funeral parlor employees into Charlie Chaplin-esque characters. Even the old lady whom they pack in a coffin is cute. Both the story and animation seem to me the cleverest and most imaginative of the five entries. "This Way Up" had my vote for the Oscar, and although it did not win, it doesn't detract from the enjoyment of watching it.
Five more noted animated shorts will round out the evening's entertainment. "Varmint," directed by Marc Craste, was nominated for a British Academy of Film and Television Arts award, although a new installment of the classic, "Wallace and Gromit," beat it. Two animals -- rodents of some sort -- cope with industrialization in this short.
In "John and Karen," directed by Matthew Walker, a polar bear/penguin couple try to resolve their differences. "Gopher Broke" earned an Oscar nomination in 2005, and it may remind audiences of Bugs Bunny and his escapades.
"Skhizein," from French director Jérémy Clapin, depicts the dilemma of a man hit by a 150-ton meteorite. Finally, fans of Plymptoons will enjoy seeing animator Bill Plympton's "Hot Dog," containing the further adventures of his hero dog. Mr. Plympton has appeared and shown his work at the MVFS International Film Festival, held each September.
Brooks Robards reviews films, art, and books for The Martha's Vineyard Times.
"Oscar Nominated Animated Shorts," Sunday, March 1, 7:30 pm. Katharine Cornell Theatre, Spring Street, Vineyard Haven. Tickets $8 ($5 for Martha's Vineyard Film Society members). Doors open at 7 pm.