Saturday, April 29, 2017

Worldfest-Houston 2017: Animation/Family Shorts

The 50th Annual Worldfest-Houston International Film Festival

Animation/Family Shorts
Sunday, April 23, 2017, 1:00 p.m.

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The animation short film category always tends to be strong at Worldfest-Houston, and this year was no exception. The category also encompassed several family shorts without animation this year, some of them just as strong. Overall, this has been my favorite category so far this year.

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Director: Pia Shah
Screenwriter: Pia Shah
Length: 14:49 minutes
Category: Family/Children
Country: India
Link: Complete film on Vimeo

In "Waterbaby", a boy named Melvin lives in the coastal town of Goa, but is afraid of water after being thrown into it as a young child; this fear makes him the target of bullies during swimming lessons at school. After being invited to a pool party by the new girl in his class, Melvin finds courage by remembering the adventures of his favorite cartoon superhero, who happens to have a goldfish sidekick.

This film was sweet and just the right length, and I enjoyed how the small amount of animation was integrated. Some of the film's music was so pretty that I'd love to find a recording of it. "Waterbaby" is a simple story, but the writer/director added some depth by indicating that Melvin's father was neglectful of both wife and son, with behavior verging on mental cruelty.

The only thing about the film that bothered me was the way Melvin spoke to his mother, snapping at her not to touch his things, and complaining about the food she fixed for him without thanks of any kind. It's possible this was meant simply to show his agitation, but I found it unfortunate that he didn't treat his mother much better than his father did. Overall, however, this film left me with a good feeling.

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Fox and the Whale

Director: Robin Joseph
Length: 12:03 minutes
Category: Animation/Family-Children
Country: Canada
Link: Film trailer on YouTube

The only way to describe "Fox and the Whale" is to call it a gorgeous piece of animation. The viewer follows a simply rendered fox as it explores nature, and in particular searches for an elusive and mysterious whale. I liked the juxtaposition of the fox's minimal, shape-based body (triangles for the head and legs) with the more complex shapes, shadows, and reflections of the various environments through which it passes.

Overall, this piece was both beautiful and soothing, like one of those CDs with a babbling brook intertwined with the music. In addition, there was a lovely attention to detail; the fox's tail never stopped moving, and its reflection in the wet sand on the beach was always visible. "Fox and the Whale" was just a pleasure to watch.

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Quitting Time

Director: Robert Dollase
Screenwriter: Robert Dollase
Length: 9:20 minutes
Category: Animation
Country: United States
Link: Various download links for film

If I had gone to the theater to see a big studio blockbuster movie, and seen this particular animated short preceding it, I wouldn't have blinked an eye. It was so polished and clever that it looked like it came from a major animation studio itself.

The program's synopsis says that "in the age of dinosaurs, a stubborn and obstinate time traveler refuses to learn the lessons of this future." What it doesn't say is how hilarious this film is, as the mad scientist time traveler ignores his future self's warnings about meddling in the past, and the two versions of him actually come to blows.

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Papa Under Water

Director: Welf Reinhart
Length: 8:30 minutes
Category: Family/Children
Country: Germany
Link: Film's IMDB page


In this family-oriented short film, a boy who feels neglected by his stressed-out father occupies himself by cleaning his goldfish's aquarium, but he accidentally endangers the fish, and ends up flooding his father's work area, including his computer and paperwork. The father is angry at first but then sees an opportunity to reconnect with his son.

Like "Waterbaby", this was a heartfelt film with a good message, and I quite enjoyed it. I did think the father's transition from anger to affection was slightly rushed and unexplained, but I'm still glad it went in that direction.

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Falling in the Flowers

Director: Yating Liang
Screenwriters: Yating Liang, Christopher L. Adam
Length: 12:14 minutes
Category: Family/Children
Country: United States
Link: Demo reel on IMDB


A young girl with low self-esteem finds herself ignored or ridiculed by her peers, until a gardener named Mr. Ted gives her a flower that he says makes the wearer beautiful. The girl is amazed how much difference her newfound confidence makes, then realizes she wasn't wearing the flower after all, but had rather dropped it before setting out to go home.

This was a sweet film, but I felt as though Mr. Ted's role and lines were a little too on the nose. His interaction with the girl seemed forced to me, as though he was a generic "wise old man." I did like the message for the most part, but it was conveyed and resolved so simplistically that it wasn't quite as effective as I might have liked.

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Not Real

Director: Michael Nicholls
Screenwriter: Michael Nicholls
Length: 6:02 minutes
Category: Family/Children
Country: Australia
Link: Film's trailer on Vimeo

I adored this film. A young boy is horrified when his father tells him that Santa Claus isn't real. When his baby sister sleepwalks and happens upon the parents trying to put together "Santa's" gifts on Christmas Eve, the boy has to decide whether to take his disappointment out on his parents, or keep the magic alive for his sister.

At just over six minutes, this film manages to tell a whole story, and it includes some funny bits in which the boy imagines his parents' malicious delight at having deceived him. And even though appearances shouldn't matter this much, I have to say that the baby sister may have been the most beautiful little girl I've ever seen. Seriously, the face of an angel.

But my picture above shows the boy instead, because it was his story, and the young actor did a terrific job. I would list his name, but the acting credits in the program book don't specify which actor played which role.

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First Snow

Director: Lenka Ivancikova
Screenwriters: Lenka Ivancikova
Length: 13:34 minutes
Category: Family/Children (listed); Animation (my categorization)
Country: Czech Republish
Link: Film's trailer

In this film, a young hedgehog wakes up and goes exploring while its parents lay sleeping. While on its adventure, the hedgehog experiences its first snow and is entranced until it realizes that it can't see the familiar landmarks to find its way back to its den.


Story-wise, "First Snow" is simple but effective. The hedgehog encounters danger when it is stalked by a fox, but fortunately for the hedgehog, the fox is stalked by something else in return. I cringed a little at the violence of the encounter, but it's not as though it was gratuitous or even gory -- it's just a personal trigger for me to see animals of any kind in danger. But there was nothing wrong with including this bit of realism in the film, and since our viewpoint character has a happy ending, I can't complain.

Technically speaking, the animation was extremely accomplished, and the depiction of the full moon was enchanting.

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Green Light

Director: Seongmin Kim
Screenwriters: Seongmin Kim; Woojin Chang
Length: 15:33 minutes
Category: Animation
Country: Korea
Link: Film's trailer on YouTube

"Green Light" was a good film on which to end the session; it had the most polished animation of any of the entries, and told a sweet if predictable story. In an post-environmental-disaster world, a young girl encounters a broken battle robot and fixes him, after which it joins her in her efforts to re-seed the barren landscape with plants. Unfortunately another battle robot happens upon the scene and, presumably following its original program, engages the first robot in battle, with tragic consequences but an ultimately hopeful message.

While the message of this film isn't subtle, it happens to be a message I agree with, so it's hard for me to find fault with it. I was reminded of Wall-E, both in story and style. I also liked the film's lack of dialogue -- and I loved the swiveling "bunny ears" on the young girl's environmental suit. Finally, the landscape vistas were breathtaking.

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My next post will be on Monday's "Texas Shorts" session.

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Click here to see my other reviews of Worldfest-Houston short film screenings from this and previous years.

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