Oscar-nominated animated shorts: Minkyu Lee's miniature epic Adam and Dog

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All this month we'll be reviewing the Oscar nominees for the best animated, live-action, and documentary short films, alternating daily between categories. Check back tomorrow for the next installment.

In a recent interview, writer-director-producer Minkyu Lee cites Terence Malick and Andrei Tarkovsky as some of the influences on his first animated short. That may sound overreaching, but what's most impressive about Adam and Dog (which you can watch here) is how it assimilates its models into a style of its own. The film tells the story of the Garden of Eden from the point of view of the first dog on earth, stressing environment and sensation over dramatic incident. When key moments of the story occur—the appearance of Eve, the humans' expulsion from the Garden—they appear as they might to an animal, circumstantial and vague. (This recalls the narrative structure of Malick's Days of Heaven, which presented an epic love story from the perspective of a 12-year-old girl who couldn't fully relate to it.) Yet a sense of awe pervades.

Lee often presents untouched creation in extreme long shot—or what would be called extreme long shot in live-action filmmaking—taking full advantage of the widescreen frame to suggest endless open space. Working in vistas also permits Lee and his animators to create impressive locations with relatively little detail; the fields, mountains, and forests of Eden register as imposing shapes, further evoking a mythic perspective. In contrast John Maximillian Repka's sound design is more particular, employing field recordings of wild environments that imbue the film with a sense of realism. Perhaps it's the influence of Tarkovsky that inspired Lee to make the most realistic attribute something we cannot see.

Of the five Oscar nominees for best animated short, this is the only one that demands to be viewed on a big screen. On a laptop, however, Lee's inspired simplicity becomes more apparent. The design of Adam and Dog owes as much to watercolor painting as to filmmaking; to achieve its full effect, the viewer must add to it with their own imagination. This aptly recalls the experience of first hearing Bible stories as a small child, when concepts like Eden or eternity seemed not just palpable, but warmly inviting.

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