Five animated shorts nominated for Oscar are a delight

The moon is made of tinkling gold stars - and you can reach it by climbing a ladder.

Old books soar aloft like flocks of birds - and they settle on people's shoulders, perching with spindly little legs.

A chicken is right at home walking down a city sidewalk - and seems able to survive a zombie apocalypse, too.

An Englishman heads to the wide plains of early 20th century Alberta, to start a ranch - but starts daydreaming instead.

And the Sunday routines of a small-town family include church and a big meal - and bracing for the train that shakes the house when it trundles by.

Magic, whimsy, a fair amount of darkness (loneliness, aging, death, zombie apocalypses) and a wonderful mix of old-school cartooning and digital animation are on tap as the five 2012 Academy Award nominees for animated shorts are available for viewing on the big screen.

Pixar may have broken its feature nominations streak this year - its 2011 release, Cars 2, is the first of its titles not to land in the Best Animation category - but "La Luna," Enrico Casaroasa's dreamy short, shows the CG studio in fine form. Accompanied by his father and grandfather, a young boy voyages to sea, and then climbs a ladder from his boat to the moon. Pixar's Casaroasa, who grew up in the port city of Genoa, was inspired by an Italo Calvino story, and also by the work of Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki. (Who isn't?)

"La Luna" is delightful, even as it forgos the crazy sight-gags that typically define Pixar work, but the real standout in this strong lineup of nominees is "The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore." The work of children's book artist/author William Joyce and animator Brandon Oldenburg, this 15-minute gem borrows from The Wizard of Oz, from Buster Keaton (its title character is Keatonesque, to say the least), and from old nursery rhymes (Humpty Dumpty is featured prominently). But along with its gentle surrealist tone, there's a note of melancholy, and of danger. Made in Louisiana, "Morris Lessmore" summons up memories of the Katrina disaster, too.

Interestingly, just as many of this year's nominated features (The Artist, Hugo, Midnight in Paris) hark back to old times and old cinema, so too do these animated shorts: "A Morning Stroll" (the one with the chicken) uses title cards and iris effects, while "A Comet" (the Brit out west) actually incorprates old archival footage.

In addition to the five Oscar-nominated shorts, the program includes four other new animated titles. A great opportunity not only to hone your Oscar pool chops, but to see some of the finest animation out there.

Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at


2013 Oscar Shorts: Animated

Running time: 1 hours, 28 minutes.

Parent's guide: Unrated ().