Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Paperman (2012)

1 Nomination, 1 Win

Win: Best Short Film, Animated - John Kahrs

Much on the focus of the recently Oscar winning animated short "Paperman" has been paid to its groundbreaking combination of traditional and computer animation, particularly through the use of Meander, newly developed software used to assist in the computer rendering of traditional animation.  Yet while the animation is indeed amazing and a revolutionary step forward, the focus on the form instead of the content reminds me of a story I once heard Pixar guru John Lasseter tell: in the early days of Pixar's short animated films, someone asked him what software he used to make the films so funny.  As impressive as the technology behind "Paperman" is, the success of the short is due not to its technological innovation, but instead to its expertise in storytelling.

"Paperman" is the story of a young man who meets a young woman on a train and is instantly smitten even as they part ways.  When he spots her from the window of his soulless corporate office (think of the office in the Billy Wilder classic The Apartment), he makes every form in the towering pile on his desk into paper airplanes, each one thrown out the window in an attempt to get her attention.  As his last airplane fails to get her attention, the man gives up, only to see the universe intervene.

Though I was enamored with the film up until the point in which he throws his final paper airplane, I found myself disappointed with the rest of the story.  When the protagonist falls short of his goal, he gives up, and it is left to destiny to intervene and lead him to his fate.  It is a natural storytelling device for the protagonist to give in when he falls short of his goal, but when he fails to pick himself up and try one more time, it feels like his journey is incomplete.  The paper airplanes he threw are responsible for his final destiny, but not in the way he intended.  Perhaps this is a comment on how things have a tendency to work out for the best, even if its not in the way we originally intended.  Still, it's hard to care about a protagonist who gives up and is rewarded not through his own doing, but through the hand of fate.

"Paperman" isn't perfect, but it is so exciting to see Disney producing quality animated shorts again, obviously inspired by Pixar's success in the field.  "Paperman" was made with great care and creativity, and it is hopefully a sign of great things to come from Disney and its big-name competitors in the world of animated shorts.

Remaining: 3163 films, 875 Oscars, 5433 nominations

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