Animated short films: why take two hours to tell a story?

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For many students at THHS, watching shows and movies online is a favored pastime. We are the Netflix generation, and for those of us who come into school and talk at length about the great shows we’ve spent our online time watching, we are very much a part of a growing ‘Net Clique’ of instant video watchers. Sometimes, however, it’s not easy to dig through the endless programs available online to find something really worth your time. “Net Cliques” is a column devoted to guiding you to the shows and movies that you might not find on your recommended list. 

What do District 9, Napoleon Dynamite, and Boogie Nights all have in common?  All of these movies were originally short films, created with miniscule budgets by virtually unknown directors and selected by the great gods of Hollywood to be made into the mega-blockbusters you know today.

Believe it or not, the arrival of the age of the animated film involved a cartoon steamboat, a little trouble, and a goat phonograph.  Released in 1928, “Steamboat Willie” (available on Youtube) was the first animated short film to ever premiere with synchronized sound and a complete soundtrack and is considered to be the first distributed piece featuring Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Walt Disney’s landmark characters.  The black and white short shares the story of Mickey and Minnie’s journey down the river and features an impromptu concert when the ill-fated goat eats Minnie’s sheet music and guitar as a snack.  The speechless piece combines physical comedy with an adventurous story to capture the hearts of audiences all over the world with a reminder that sometimes, the simplest things can cause joy time and time again.

Case in point: “The Longest Daycare” (available on Youtube), starring the adorable Maggie Simpson from the hit show The Simpsons. The Oscar-nominated silent short, “The Longest Daycare” focuses on a difficult day for Maggie in her prison-like daycare as she struggles to save a butterfly from her insect-killing archenemy, Gerald. Full of subtle cultural references and typical Simpsons wit, the short is surprisingly moving and suspensful despite its main characters being a baby and a butterfly. Many considered this piece even better than the feature it accompanied for its theatrical release, Ice Age: Continental Drift.

As far as short films and love stories go, “Paperman,” a short accompanying the theatrical release of Wreck-It Ralph, soars above the rest.

The scene is New York City in the 1940s.  A young man meets a woman  and tries to gain her attention through paper airplanes. Not only successful in its subtle storytelling, this piece, the 2013 winner of the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film, pioneered a type of animation, called final line advection, that combines 2-D drawing with CG animation to allow for a more expressive and dimensional animation.  With a touching story, “Paperman” has a feel-good element that really lets one see the hope and chances in the world, for animated characters and real people alike.

And if you’re deciding that you don’t want to sleep tonight, consider watching “Alma” (available on Youtube), a short from Spain so imaginative that director Guillermo del Toro is currently producing the full feature version. On a snowy day in Barcelona, a young girl named Alma comes across a chalkboard covered with the names of various children and, with childlike innocence, she scribbles her own name on the wall. As she continues her walk, Alma comes across a shop featuring a doll with an eerie resemblance to herself. She ventures inside to retrieve it, and the events that follow are scary enough to knock the pants off even Freddy Kruger and Jason. Hauntingly beautiful, this piece puts the “horror” films seen today to shame while reminding us that yes, even little animated dolls can still make us cower under our beds in fright.

Who has time to go to the movies and sit through something that drags on for hours, when you can simply go online and find shorts that can still satisfy your cravings for plot, characters, and suspense?

An animated work can move you in more ways than you think, and whether it’s by dancing mice, animated people, or lifelike dolls, that choice is yours. Make the right one and indulge in a smaller snack this month, Net Cliques readers.

Happy watching!