The world is both upside down and utterly familiar in “Logorama”. The cops are Michelin men, Ronald McDonald is armed and dangerous, Mr. Peanut’s a frightened diner customer, and Big Boy’s tough-kid attitude matches his high hair. Surrounded by Los Angeles buildings and signs that exemplify this short animated film’s title, the action is initially very basic: police in cruisers, equipped with radios and aided by helicopters, chase the villain. Stakes are raised when Ronald McDonald takes a hostage, and then again when an earthquake strikes. Suddenly, walls are collapsing, pavement is cracking, and all the logos are crashing into one another. The Pillsbury Doughboy flees while whoo-hooing and the AOL guy flaps and stumbles in the wind.
Clever and energetic, “Logorama” is the freshest and most fun of the five Oscar nominees for Best Animated Short. Created by the H5 group (François Alaux, Herve de Crecy, and Luvodic Houplain), it seems an extra-energetic refraction of the daily landscape — logos on vehicles and billboards, on shoes and t-shirts — here popped off their surfaces and roaming free and not a little aggressively (reportedly, the film features some 2500 logos). It seems the sort of cleverness conjured by a room full of avid, if cynical consumers, fast and perverse, sorta dark and delightful.
“Logorama” stands out among this year’s nominees, but a likely winner is a usual suspect, this year’s Nick Park concoction. Wallace and Gromit return in “A Matter of Loaf and Death”, this time working as bakers. The stop-motion, ever dim human Wallace again overreaches and Gromit must rescue him, this time from a woman with a very white poodle named Fluffy, her anxious refusal to meet Gromit’s gaze a sure sign of trouble. The animation is lovely, the dog’s expressions — again — charming.
Another expressive face opens Nicky Phelan’s “Granny O’Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty”. A young girl waits in her bedroom, looking worried. When her grandma appears at the door, you realize why. The fairy tale reveals the lonely, angry woman’s many dreams of vengeance, imagining that her young and reckless relatives — who “forget” to invite her to gatherings and parties, will suffer serious troubles. The 2D story is differentiated from grandmother and granddaughter’s 3D world, but in both, a version of Ms. O’Grimm cackles with pleasure at her own schemes. A second old woman serves as the center of Javier Recio Gracia’s “The Lady and the Reaper” (“La dama y la muerte”). Missing her dead husband, she finally finds a sort of peace — blue and translucent — when the scythe-wielding reaper arrives as she sleeps, only to be hauled back to the world of the living by a proud, cleft-chinned doctor. As the reaper and the doctor battle over her body, the woman’s soul makes her own choice, apparently. In “French Roast,” by Frabrice Joubert (and produced by Antonio Banderas,) a café customer finds he’s lost his wallet and so spends the day at his table, hoping to put off his embarrassment. Rest assured: lessons are learned.
This year’s Oscar Nominated Live Short Films take up serious subjects and four of the five treat them very seriously. Juanita Wilson’s “The Door” (Ireland) begins with its end, as an entire community is forced to move out. A father narrates their collective pain and loss, the film shows how he feels, in dark, grim close-ups and haunting snowscapes. In “Kavi,” an Indian boy yearns to play cricket with kids his age, but must labor alongside his parents at a kiln. Gregg Helvey’s camera keeps the camera low and tight, approximating the child’s limited, anxious view.
Australian Luke Doolan’s “Miracle Fish” also takes a child’s perspective, here a boy (the terrific Karl Beattie) on his eighth birthday: bullied at school and impoverished at home, he wakes from a nap to find his world — the school hallways, the playground — utterly changed by some terrible violence. “The New Tenants,” by Joachim Back, features familiar faces: the titular partners Jamie Harrold and David Rakoff, troubled by unhinged, jilted husband Vincent D’Onofrio and alarming heroin dealer Kevin Corrigan. Frames tilt and hover close to their faces during darkly comic exchanges, inviting you to anticipate a resolution that can’t possibly come.
The nominations’ single straight-up comedy, Patrik Eklund’s “Instead of Abracadabra,” follows the efforts of an aspiring magician to convince his parents and comely new neighbor that his ambition — especially his not-quite-worked-out sword-through-the-box trick — is worthy. Per the generic format, each film features a twist ending. “The Door,” sober and beautifully composed, seems the probable winner, but Doolan’s movie is sharp, compassionate, and provocative.