Friday, March 21, 2008

Poor Little Animated Shorts: An Introduction

I have always been a fan of feature films over shorts, television and internet videos, though increasingly it has become clear that traditional theatrical screenings are only one facet of what used to be called motion pictures. It’s tough to keep up; there are many more shorts made every year than feature length films, and yet I watch far fewer. So admittedly, I’m no expert. However, I have taken a recent plunge deeper into the world of animated shorts, and I thought I might share my impressions, call out some favorites and draw attention to a few neglected items of interest.

It helps that shorts are more accessible than ever before. There is YouTube, anthology DVDs and many websites set up by the creators where you can watch the shorts free and in their entirety (this is far rarer for feature films, where higher costs and higher profits are at stake). DVDs cover ground from Looney Tunes Golden Collection of classic cartoons to oddball themed collections like “Cartoon Noir,” and from the Masters of Russian Animation set with its admirable historical survey of serious Soviet shorts to the postcyberpunk tie-in project "The Animatrix." In addition, many shorts show up in the special features of full-length film DVDs, a generous way of reviving and redistributing works that would not be marketable alone. As part of this series, I will try to provide links or DVD advice for how to find the animated shorts I discuss.

In catching myself somewhat up to speed, I have used several sources, including the Jerry Beck’s 1994 book “The 50 Greatest Cartoons: As Selected by 1,000 Animation Professionals,” the nominee lists for the short animation academy award which has been given out since 1931, “They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They?” and a many others. I haven’t had the time to even scratch the surface, but I’ve at least started to grasp the scope of what’s out there.

As I said, this is far from my specialty, so I’m going to do this series as more of an overview of shorts I find noteworthy for one reason or another. I simply haven’t seen enough to rank them or to offer a complete historical overview. There will be widely-recognized “obvious” shorts along with some obscure items. There will be classic cartoons, ambitious works of high-minded art and blatant concessions to nostalgia. I’m including CG, claymation, stop motion and several shorts that stretch the definition of animation, but which fit better here than in the “live-action” category.

I hope everyone will enjoy! Oh, and send suggestions: I’ll add new installments as I view more.

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