" Imagine an Oscar category with films inspired by legendary artists Dali and Giacometti. Then add a cartoon about tadpoles, a piece about sheep from the artist who designed "Toy Story's" Woody the Cowboy, and top it off with the continuing adventures of an "Ice Age" critter. You soon realize this is a distinctive year in the contest for animated short film.
The competition was a long time coming for at least two entrants --- Disney's "Destino" and Pixar's "Boundin'." "Destino" was 57 years in the making --- conceived by Salvador Dali and Walt Disney in 1945 and recently completed at the behest of Roy Disney. "Boundin' " is the first Academy submission by 70-year-old Bud Lucky, an animator on the original "Sesame Street."
Pixar's "Toy Story" director John Lasseter, an Oscar winner himself for the 1988 short "Tin Toy," explains, "Bud Lucky was one of Pixar's first animators, and he's worked on all our films. 'Boundin' is about a sheep that's proud of his fluffy wool coat. But then he gets sheared and becomes pathetic until he gets some sage advice from the great American jackalope."
Unlike past Pixar shorts, which qualified for Academy consideration by being theatrically released with the studio's features, the just-finished "Boundin' " squeaked into the Oscar race after Pixar arranged special screenings at L.A.'s Laemmle Theaters.
Qualifying this way is a popular practice for animated short filmmakers, whose only other road to Oscar qualification involves winning a "best-of" prize at one of the 47 film festivals that the Academy recognizes. Since that can be a lengthy process, several entrants this year took the Laemmle route, including Blur Studios ("Rockfish"), Film Roman ("The Amazing Jorge") and indie animator Rachel Johnson ("The Toll Collector").
One high-profile submission this year did have the benefit of a theatrical run, however. Sony Imageworks' tadpole tale "Early Bloomer" screened with "Daddy Day Care," and director Kevin Johnson (news) admits, "I'm guilty of going to several viewings of that movie!"
With "Early Bloomer," Sony clearly hopes to continue the momentum begun last year with its first animated-short Oscar winner, "The ChubbChubbs!," now in feature development. (See story, page Ax.)
Johnson himself is working on a yet-to-be-announced feature, and could be the latest talent to benefit from directing a well-received animated short. The precedents are plentiful --- in addition to Lasseter, animated shorts have offered a path to feature films for Blue Sky Studio's Chris Wedge, who directed the 1998 Oscar-winning short "Bunny" before directing "Ice Age."