A scene from Disney's 'Paperman'.

A scene from Disney’s ‘Paperman’.

Animated shorts are reminiscent of cinema’s roots more than any other Oscar category; brief, entirely visual stories communicated with the solid efficacy of early Nickelodeons and Rotoscopes. The finest animated films utilize the freedom of their medium to tell stories that might otherwise be over-complicated. The contenders this year show that the niche is still going strong.

Paperman

Though sweet and visually engaging, Paperman is something of a retread. It starts as a simple tale of serendipity, but in typical Disney fashion, rather abruptly anthropomorphizes the inanimate paper in what almost seems to be a weak reference to last year’s far superior winner The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. Sweet, vibrant, but a bit underdeveloped, Paperman could have been stronger if it had continued as a meet-cute story instead of awkwardly inserting Disney magic.

Head Over Heels

Tied for top contender with Adam and Dog, Head Over Heels makes the most of its medium, illustrating an emotional story through spatial metaphor. It tells a tale that could truly only be told – or even taken seriously – in an animated medium. An old couple is living in a house together, but in reverse gravities. Each one’s floor is the other’s ceiling. They walk about disconnected, each upside down to the other. During an argument, when the house finally lands on a nearby planet, the wife’s gravity becomes the official gravity while the husband is stuck on the ceiling. The ensuing analogy for their dwindling relationship and the redemption there exhibited is touching, intelligent, and brilliantly visualized. A real contender to win.

Adam and Dog

The real tearjerker of the bunch, Adam and Dog is a tale of man’s best friend in the age of cavemen. It demonstrates the early bonds formed between a Cro-Magnon man, ostensibly the first man if we take the biblical implications of the title seriously, and a dog. The film focuses on the loyalty of dogs in contrast to the frivolity of humans, and the beautiful yet cruel presence of man amongst nature. The last distant shot as the Dog reunites with Adam and his woman friend (perhaps Eve) after what may have been years of searching will put a tear in your eye, as you watch them walk off into the distance that represents the future of humanity, of which the dog is a major part.

Fresh Guacamole

Short and sweet, a visual delight, Fresh Guacamole indulges the urge we’ve all had as children to eat the everyday objects around us. Using stop motion animation we watch ping pong balls, dice, and Monopoly houses be delectably incorporated into a synthetic Guacamole, eventually scooped up with Poker Chips. A satisfying aesthetic that will make you hungry for all the wrong things.

The Simpsons: The Longest Daycare

Is this a couch gag? That’s the only time audiences are used to seeing dialogue-free extended visual jokes featuring the Simpsons. A fairly weak series of one-off jokes featuring Maggie leads to the question “when did The Simpsons start being marketed so directly to kids?” It used to be fairly adult programming, too cutting, crass, and cynical to be marketed for all ages, but this Maggie-centric addition is tame as ever and even plays before a kids movie (Ice Age 3D). It really feels like it’s not The Simpsons anymore; it’s The Simpsons Movie: The Show. Even if it were a couch gag The Longest Daycare wouldn’t be much of a contender.

In conclusion Head Over Heels is the clear winner with Adam and Dog trailing at a close second. Fresh Guacamole is a brave step in stop motion animation and hopefully more tasty shorts like it will crop up soon. The Simpsons should focus on getting back their old charm and not marketing  Maggie to toddlers, and if Disney is going to make paper fly they should do it with the style that won them the Oscar last year.

Editor’s Note: The live-action and animated Academy Award-nominated films will be opening at the Nuart in West L.A. and the Regency South Coast Village 3 in Orange County.