WHITTLED DOWN from the weeklong festival that took place in May, the Best of the NW Animation Festival collects 14 animated shorts that either won awards or garnered special mention. I always find at least one great short in a batch like this—and at this level of curation, there aren't any duds.
There's a bittersweet tone to these selections: Children are bullied, friends are lost, and mammoths commit suicide in the snow. One of the best shorts, Bear Story, by Chilean animator Gabriel Osorio, concerns an old bear tinkerer who carries a wind-up clockwork story box that offers an intricate display of a happy bear family—until the papa bear is beaten and abducted by circus men. Somehow this delights all the young bears the tinkerer meets, but it left me pretty concerned about circuses. Those bears lived in an apartment. I live in an apartment! Could that happen to me? Gone are the happy endings cartoons used to promise by virtue of their genre.
But without question, the standout of the program is Lesley the Pony Has an A+ Day. As the title suggests, Lesley is a carefree pony mincing around to a catchy tune, covering up his darker side, on his way to see his friend the Duke. I can't decide if Lesley eschews the otherwise constant thread of sadness that runs through the rest of this program's shorts, or if he grabs it in his teeth as he drags everyone with him to hell. The first widely distributed work of 22-year-old Christian Larrave from the Rhode Island School of Design, Lesley the Pony Has an A+ Day won the NW Animation Festival's Best Student Film Award. The irreverent humor reminds me of Don Hertzfeldt's Rejected, and I'm still singing the theme song.