Cineplex is currently playing an animated short before many of its screenings. It depicts a young girl and her magical friend: a snowman with whom she plays, watches movies, and makes shadow puppets. When the weather warms, she puts the snowman in a freezer and, as the girl ages, she forgets about the snowman. Years later, as an adult, she experiences a bad day at work and suddenly remembers. She goes home, takes the snowman out of the freezer and relives the childhood innocence. It’s sweet, but it also harps back to a time when animated shorts played an important role at the movies. Every studio would play animated shorts before its movies: Warner Brothers had Looney Tunes, Disney had Mickey Mouse and Universal had Woody Woodpecker.
It’s unfortunate that contemporary audiences rarely experience animated shorts on the big screen. But if animated shorts are your thing, you’re in luck. The 17th Annual Animation Show of Shows will be screening in Toronto. Co-presented by the Toronto Animated Image Society, it amasses 11 animated shorts from many countries around the world, including Russia, Iran, Switzerland and France. Some of the animated shorts are creative, moving and stellar to watch. Unfortunately, by screening these quirky shorts in quick succession (some of the animated films are a couple of minutes long while others are up to 15-minutes long), it becomes a challenge to sit through the entire 90-minute run. However, it helps that some of the animated shorts are followed by making-of vignettes.
Reviewed individually, many of the animated shorts are amazing gems. The Story of Percival Pilts, which kicks off the screening, is a 2-minute Australian short about a boy who lives his whole life on stilts. He uses his height as superhero powers, rescuing people from dangers, including drownings and storms. Illustrated with a sepia hue reminiscent of the Kansas scenes in The Wizard of Oz, the characters have exaggerated physical features. And it has a quick editing pace that today’s kids are used to seeing on TV. But it has adult humour that makes it a meditation of loneliness. Despite saving people, the short ends with the boy all alone, looking into the sky.
Snowfall is another strong short. It tells the story of a gay man who goes to a party and is instantly attracted to another man. The gay man fantasizes about the other man, but it ends sadly when he sees the man with his girlfriend. The characters are unusually animated: they have square eyebrows and square heads reminiscent of South Park, yet the scenes are animated with beautiful lights and shadows, as if they are in a film noir. Characters are framed talking in doorframes and hallways, the bright lights making them appear in silhouette. The director is interviewed in a making-of doc that follows, talking of the pains of being gay in a heterosexual world, and having crushes on people who can never love you back.
We Can’t Live without Cosmos is another strong entry. Made in Russia, it tells the story of two cosmonaut recruits who also happen to be life-long friends. They each carry pictures posing with each other. They compete in cosmonaut physical-training activities together. They bunk in the same room and play after curfew. So, when one of the cosmonauts dies in orbit, the other recruit is in such despair that he won’t even take his spacesuit off. It gets worse when he’s immediately given a new bunkmate. He finds peace by playing the same games that he played with his friend.
It’s a particularly heartwarming story because there is not one line of dialogue uttered, despite its 15-minute length. Sound effects are kept at a minimum. And the animation style is simple.