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Showing posts from November, 2020

A Year in Shorts Day 30: "A Grand Day Out"

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When it comes to the Academy Awards, few duos have quite such a successful track record as Wallace and Gromit. With five theatrical releases to speak of (four shorts and one animated feature), the two have racked up five Academy Award nominations, winning three of them! Heck, they’re so successful that even their spin-offs got an Oscar nomination. And it all started in 1989 with A Grand Day Out. (via IMDb) Like all Wallace and Gromit productions, A Grand Day Out was directed by Nick Park and produced by Aardman Animations. Much like Oktopodi, the short started life as a school project and took over six years to complete. It follows absent-minded inventor Wallace (Peter Sallis) and his dog Gromit as they decided to go to the moon to pick up some cheese. As you do. A Grand Day Out is a very funny, very charming and very British short, as anyone familiar with Wallace and Gromit should expect. To go into too much detail on the story would be to spoil the fun, and we wouldn't want

A Year in Shorts Day 29: "La Salla"

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Over the last seventy-nine years, The National Film Board of Canada has been nominated for seventy-four Academy Awards, winning twelve. The majority of the NFBC’s awards success has come from their short films, many of them animated. A great deal of these shorts have been lauded for their experimental animation and quirky sense of humor. And there are shorts like Richard Condie's 1996 short La Salla. (via National Film Board of Canada) Now, to be clear, La Salla has experimental animation. And it definitely has a quirky sense of humor. But whereas in some shorts that works really well, in this particular case it just does not come together. La Salla is, technically speaking, an operetta, which is certainly a first for us here at The Great Oscar Baiter. It is, ostensibly, a cautionary tale about the dangers of giving into temptation. To me, it just seems like an excuse for Richard Condie to throw a bunch of random nonsense at the wall and see if any of it sticks. Well, for me at

A Year in Shorts Day 28: "Gone Nutty"

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In the annals of modern animation, few characters are as underappreciated as Scrat the Saber-Toothed Squirrel. Making his debut in the feature film Ice Age, Scrat is a neverending source of comic delight, and it's time he got the recognition he deserves. Ever since Ice Age was released, Scrat has gone on to star in some of his own shorts, starting with 2002’s Gone Nutty. (via Wikipedia) Gone Nutty, like all Scrat shorts, follows everyone's favorite prehistoric squirrel in his attempts to acquire and store enough acorns so he can survive the Ice Age. The short, directed by Carlos Saldanha, is very simple but effective. Scrat belongs to the same honored tradition of unlucky animated characters like Wile E. Coyote or Tom of Tom and Jerry fame, except Scrat's only nemeses are his own personality flaws and the forces of nature itself. As you can see, Scrat leads a very complicated life. While Gone Nutty is not a great short, it's still a great deal of fun and well worth

A Year in Shorts Day 27: "Get a Horse!"

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In 1928, Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks released Steamboat Willie, the official debut of Mickey Mouse and one of the first cartoons to feature synchronized sound. Despite its critical acclaim and historical significance, Steamboat Willie will never be covered here on The Great Oscar Baiter for one simple reason- It wasn’t nominated for an Oscar! ( Steamboat Willie was released during the eligibility period for the First Academy Awards, but the Academy wouldn’t recognize short films until the Fifth). Still, the spirit of Steamboat Willie and other early Mickey Mouse cartoons lives on in today’s short, the delightful Get a Horse! (via Wikipedia) Released in 2013 alongside the theatrical release of Frozen, Get a Horse! was directed by Lauren MacMullan, making it the first film in Disney history to be directed solely by a woman. MacMullan also developed the short's concept, which is a pretty simple but clever one- Get a Horse! begins as a throwback done in the style of the Disney sho

A Year in Shorts Day 26: "The Little Orphan"

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Happy Thanksgiving everyone! In the spirit of the holiday, I’ve decided to talk about something I’m thankful for. And that, of course, means talking about Tom and Jerry and the Oscar-winning short The Little Orphan. (via Wikipedia) Of course, The Little Orphan just also happens to be a short ABOUT Thanksgiving, despite first being released in April of 1948. Either way, it's a Tom and Jerry short you've probably seen- A little orphan mouse named Nibbles comes to Jerry's house for Thanksgiving and chaos, predictably, ensues. (via IMDb) Directors William Hanna and Joseph Barbera had the Tom and Jerry formula figured out by this point, and they don't do much to stray from it here. But formulas are formulas for a reason, and The Little Orphan is chock full of the classic Tom and Jerry mayhem you know and love. It's hard to exactly explain why they work so well, but they do. (via Giphy) Admittedly, The Little Orphan isn't the best Tom and Jerry short. It takes a l

A Year in Shorts Day 25: "Geri's Game"

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Much like the Silly Symphonies of old, Pixar's short films served two purposes. One was to simply make good, entertaining shorts that people could enjoy. But beyond that, the shorts were always designed to push the limits of what computer animation could do. They did it with Luxo Jr. they did it again with Tin Toy. And in 1997, Pixar once again pushed the boundaries with Geri's Game. (via IMDb) After the critical and commercial success of Toy Story, Pixar was on top of the world. No longer a studio making shorts and commercials, they were in the animated feature business. But as production began on A Bug's Life, Pixar co-founder Ed Catmull decided that in order to advance new technology and train new directors, the studio should also go back to making shorts. Pixar hadn't released a new short since 1989's Knick Knack, and Catmull approached director Jan Pinkava with an assignment- to make a short film featuring a human character. While Pixar had certainly prov

A Year in Shorts Day 24: "Kings of the Turf"

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Over a week ago, we covered Marines in the Making, a Pete Smith Specialty about… well, the title says it all. Today we’re looking at a short that has nothing to do with Pete Smith, but it certainly feels like it does. It's 1941's Kings of the Turf! (via IMDb) Remember yesterday how I said Fifty Percent Grey didn't give me a whole lot to talk about? Well that goes double for Kings of the Turf. What is there to say? It's a decently amusing documentary about horses! What do I know about horses? Nothing! Directed by Harold Medford and narrated by... look, must we keep up this charade? You watched the short, right? What is there to say? Nothing! The most interesting thing I could think to say about it was when I thought it was a Pete Smith Specialty, which isn't even true! Kings of the Turf is FINE. It's not good, nor bad, but it's fine. It's educational, entertaining enough, and at ten minutes isn't a huge waste of time. Ugh. I'm really going t

The Great Oscar Baiter Day 23: "Fifty Percent Grey"

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Content Warning: Today's short film features imagery of self-harm/suicide. Some shorts are easy to talk about. Maybe they have a compelling story or beautiful animation. Perhaps they represented an important milestone in film history or introduced an iconic character. Or maybe they’re just incredibly offensive, which is always good for at least a paragraph. But some shorts just give you nothing to work with. Fifty Percent Grey is one of those shorts. (via IMDb) Released in 2001 and directed by Ruairi Robinson, Fifty Percent Grey is definitely an odd short. It's ostensibly a dark comedy, although it's not particularly funny, and the short really only has one joke. There are a lot of short films like this, where most of the runtime is dedicated to setting up a single punchline. That's perfectly fine, but in order for it to work, the punchline has to be worth it. If it's a dud, the whole thing feels like a waste of time. Unfortunately, Fifty Percent Grey is a bit of

A Year in Shorts Day 22: "One Droopy Knight"

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Hello, all you happy people. (via Wikipedia) While Droopy may not be one of Tex Avery’s most iconic creations, he’s certainly managed to stay in the popular consciousness. My earliest memories of him were from his cameos in Who Framed Roger Rabbit and the Tom and Jerry movie (and the less we say about that abomination, the better). Still, despite his long shelf life, Droopy has only ever approached Oscar gold once, with today’s short One Droopy Knight. Directed by Michael Lah and produced by Hanna-Barbera, One Droopy Knight is a pretty simple story. It is also, apparently, a remake of the 1949 short SeƱor Droopy , although verifying that would require research beyond trusting Wikipedia, and we simply can't have that. Either way, One Droopy Knight tells the story of Sir Droopalot (Bill Thompson, whom you may recognize as Mr. Smee from Disney's Peter Pan) and his attempts to slay a dragon to win the hand of a beautiful princess. (via TV Tropes) It's all pretty standard stuff

A Year in Shorts Day 21: "Your Face"

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In our three weeks here at The Great Oscar Baiter, we’ve covered a lot of animated shorts of varying quality. Some were fast paced and funny, others were more low key or morose. But none, so far, have been as just plain weird as today’s short, the 1987 film Your Face. (via Letterboxd) In the world of indie animation, Bill Plympton is something of a legend. Starting his career as a cartoonist, Plympton went on to a long and fruitful career in animation. He self-financed several feature films, did a Simpsons couch gag, contributed a segment to ABCs of Death 2 and even turned down the opportunity to animate for the Genie in Disney's Aladdin because he objected to the terms of the contract he'd have to sign. And perhaps most importantly, he animated a "Weird Al" music video. But across his career, Plympton has never won an Oscar, and has only been nominated twice. His first nomination came with Your Face, and it's not very hard to see why it caught the Academy'

A Year in Shorts Day 20: "All Out for V"

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In our short time at The Great Oscar Baiter, we’ve already managed to cover two pieces of World War II propaganda. But so far we’ve stuck to live action documentary shorts, not yet wading into the pool of animated propaganda. Well, that ends today as we take a look at 1942's All Out for ‘V’. (via IMDb) Back in the day, cartoons used to play before all sorts of movies, not just the ones meant for kids. And so during World War II, it made sense that a lot of those animated shorts would focus on the war effort. Some were very good. A lot of them were not so good. And pretty much all of them were at least a little bit racist. Well... at least it didn't get racist until the end there. Directed by Mannie Davis and released by Terrytoons (the same studio that brought you Mighty Mouse), All Out for 'V' is a short clearly designed to encourage people to contribute to the war effort at home. Which is all fine and good, but did it have to be some damn annoying about it? All Out

A Year in Shorts Day 19: "A Herb Albert & the Tijuana Brass Band Double Feature"

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An important thing to remember when looking at film history is that there’s a distinct difference between “important” and “good.” Just because a film is groundbreaking or revolutionary doesn’t always mean it works as a film. A lot of the time it does, and that’s great! But sometimes… well, sometimes it’s A Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass Band Double Feature. (Via IMDb) Directed by Oscar-winning animation team John and Faith Hubley and released in 1966, A Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass Band Double Feature (try saying THAT five times fast) is considered one of the earliest examples of the music video. In fact, it's actually two music videos in one, showing cartoons set to "Spanish Flea" and "Tijuana Taxi". The 1960s were certainly a mixed bag for the Oscar-nominated animated shorts; some shorts, like The Dot and the Line or The Critic, were exciting and experimental, pushing the medium in bold new directions. Others, like High Note or Aquamania, were

A Year in Shorts Day 18: "The Pink Phink"

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Regular readers of The Great Oscar Baiter (or fans of animation in general) are no doubt familiar with the name Friz Freleng. Just yesterday we talked about one of the many shorts he made for Warner Brothers. But although his work with the Looney Tunes remains his greatest legacy, he played an instrumental role in the creation of another iconic cartoon character: The Pink Panther, the star of today’s Oscar-winning short, The Pink Phink. (via Wikipedia) Released in 1964 and directed by Friz Freleng and Hawley Pratt, The Pink Phink was the first animated short to feature the Pink Panther. The panther had made his debut a year prior in the iconic opening credits for The Pink Panther, also directed by Freleng (the credits that is, not the rest of the movie). The cartoon was such a hit with audiences (for my money, it was easily the funniest part of that movie) that United Artists enlisted Freleng's studio to animate more shorts featuring the character. When it comes to animated shor