Terrific 2012 Oscar animated shorts nominees are hard to keep quiet about


“2012 Oscar Shorts: Animated” opens Friday at Sundance Cinemas. Not rated (fine for kids), 1:28.

Sometimes, when you’re good and you know it, you don’t have to say a word.

That’s certainly the case with the five animated short films nominated this year for an Oscar. It’s the strongest collection of nominees in years — and all five of them are totally dialogue-free. While that seems to be an ongoing trend in animated shorts (I can’t remember a Pixar short that had spoken dialogue), it’s telling that so many animators are opting to tell their stories entirely visually, and doing so so well and so cleverly.

Pixar’s entry this year is the enchanting “Paperman,” which screened in theaters before “Brave.” It wears its romantic heart-on-its-sleeve, a typical boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-track-of-girl, boy-finds-girl-with-help-of-magical-paper-airplanes sort of tale. In the storytelling, it captures that mix of wry humor and emotion that the best Pixar films balance, but it’s the execution that’s so unexpected here. Director John Kahrs has opted to make a film that’s entirely black and white (with one notable exception), and employs an engaging mix of 3D and hand-drawn 2D animation. It really feels like a traditional, lovingly-drawn 2D cartoon that somehow fills the space of a computer-generated cartoon.

Judge for yourself: Pixar posted “Paperman” online last week:

At the other end of the relationship arc is the British stop-motion animated film “Head Over Heels,” which looks at a middle-aged couple in a loveless marriage, living in the same house but barely acknowledging each other’s existence. Writer-director Timothy Reckart devised a simple but brilliant visual metaphor for the couple growing apart — in the house, the wife lives on the floor while the husband lives on the ceiling, upside down. If and how they manage to get on the same plane makes for a very affecting little film.

It says something about the strength of a set of animated films when “The Simpsons” is the weakest link. And “The Longest Daycare” is still pretty good, following young Maggie Simpson as she enters a dodgy day care center and has to protect a butterfly from the playroom bully. It’s full of little in-jokes and well-animated — good Simpsons but not exactly transcendent.

Writer-director Minkyu Lee’s “Adam and Dog” takes a simple concept — what if there was a dog in the Garden of Eden — and spins it out with flat-out gorgeous hand-painted visuals of forests and meadows. The story is fairly simple, but the animation is evocative, especially at capturing how dogs really explore the world around them.

Lastly, PES’ “Fresh Guacamole” is a two-minute explosion of creativity and ingenuity, a stop-motion marvel using everyday objects to simulate the making of guacamole — the avocado is a grenade, half a golf ball becomes the lime, and the diced tomatoes and onions are, well, dice.

In addition, the theatrical screening of “2012 Oscar Shorts — Animated” includes three more animated films that weren’t nominated, including “The Gruffalo’s Child,” the sequel to the delightful Oscar winner from a couple of years back. At under 90 minutes, the collection is suitable for family viewing but inventive and engaging enough for their parents as well.

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