Three more films in the “Short Films by Short People” series have aired on the Splat and been uploaded to Youtube, so here’s more of my episode guide! I mean, how can you go wrong with a singing piranha, a talking eyeball, and crudely animated cgi sloths?
This installment includes two films that were not at the Paley Center, so this is really exciting for me. I hope you enjoy it too.
Happy Birthday 2 U&U&U
As you can see, I got a few things wrong in my original summary of this short, including the title. But I did only see it once until Nick decided to show it on the Splat so that’s…what, 19, maybe 20 years? Anyway, here’s an improved summary and my thoughts.
The film takes place in a future where all homes and appliances are controlled by computers. In 2097, Hazel, a sentient eyeball, is having its birthday somewhere in outer space, and receives an intergalactic telescope. She or he has no hands, but can ‘zap’ things and sets the gift up. Hazel sees through the telescope that two earth people are having a birthday: an elderly woman and a preteen girl. Bea, the elderly woman, is turning 139 and her only friend seems to be Hubert, the AI in her chair. She remembers her last happy birthday, in 2047. (Ow.) Meanwhile, the girl, who seems to dislike trendy things insists she wants a birthday cake- a tradition that’s been almost completely forgotten in their era. Her mother isn’t sure what a birthday cake is and asks the house computer (which is represented as a frog on a video screen) to make one. Once the cake is ready, the girl and her mother have no idea what to do with it. “Grammy once said something about a song. Does it sing?” They wait, and the cake stays silent. “Maybe you sing to it?” the mother asks. The girl mishears the computer’s instruction to blow on the cake as “throw” and tosses out the window. Hazel zaps the cake over to Bea, who happily blows out the candles as everyone sings an original birthday song.
I still have to wonder if Bea, the old woman in this short, is the ‘Grammy” the mother refers to when she talks about birthday cakes. She is not identified as such, but think about it. If the movie takes place in 2097, and Bea turned 139 that year, she would have been born in 1958 and still remembered birthday cakes. This woman hasn’t had a happy birthday in 50 years, and seems to have no companionship other than Hubert. (That chair seems to do everything for her, predating the humans in “Wall-e” by 11 years!) 50 years of crappy birthdays is depressing for Nickelodeon- almost like something out of Ray Bradbury, since she seems so lonely. I know we’re not meant to think about it this deeply, but has her family just scattered because she’s old, or do they not care? Is a 139-year life expectancy normal in this future? What are these people living for? Perhaps the one bright note is that Hazel may continue to check on Bea, and others like her, to give them a little happiness in a future that seemingly has everything else.
I love how creative the credits were in this short, with the giant hair and the face of the creator, Emily, being revealed at the end. The actress playing the daughter is identified as “Madeline” , from the creator’s class, others identified by first name include. I also really like the costumes in this short, especially the mother’s. She looks, as one Youtube commenter noted, like the Dark Queen in the movie Mirrormask. This entry is another personal favorite, thanks to the “Liquid Television-Meets the Jetsons” visual style and the unexpected pathos from Bea.
The Piranha and the Mailman
Yes, that’s really Frances Mc Dormand.
My favorite is finally up for everyone to see, and I could not be happier! Also I got the name of the actor playing the prime Minister wrong- it’s Mark, as in Mark-Linn Baker. For good or ill, you know him as The Guy Who Wasn’t Balki on “Perfect Strangers,” aka Cousin Larry. Now the fact that Mark starred in the musical “A Year with Frog and Toad” all makes sense- same writer as this short! I really hope this creator is still out there making up stories, and I hope someone will help me identify the actor who played the Piranha. His first name is given as “Peter.” Do you know this fish?
Ohhhhh, boy. This is indeed a short about two brothers who run a television network (also, it’s the future again- 3997 to be exact- but everything’s so weird looking, I won’t be surprised if you don’t notice.) Brothers Nick and Ryan have psychic powers and weird pets, and their nemesis is their next door neighbor, the “laziest kid in the world,” who, with the help of his pet sloth, hacks into their signal so everyone can be as bored and boring as he is, and watch him sleep. Then “fungal boron”, an evil green mold, threatens to engulf the world as a result of all this boredom. The brothers and pets use their psychic powers to think of weird things (such as a two-headed pink cow) to defeat the mold, which weakens by taking on the form of their weird thoughts. Only when their neighbor joins them is the enemy defeated and the future saved. The entire thing is animated in very low-grade CGI, which some viewers said frightened them when they were kids.
The CGI definitely makes this short a clear departure from the others. I also liked the nice Easter egg of seeing just what the brother’s ‘weird tv programs’ are like- they’re clips from other Nick shows! You can spot the original Angela Anaconda, the glasses-and-beehive lady from “Innie and Outie”, and a clip from the utterly terrifying “We are the Shrimpskins,” which I will delve into in a later post. That one may requite a lie down.
This short….well, Nick obviously did the best they could with the limited CGI of the time and their budget. But the way the characters look and move is still very off-putting- I don’t know if kids of any era ever would have embraced it. The making-of is amusing, with the two brothers, Nick and Ryan, explaining how the film was made, bickering as brothers do, and how Ryan wanted his character to look older until the animator, Steve (they don’t say his name very clearly, captions are no help) declared that he looked “about forty.” They declare Steve to be “The best 3D animator in the world or maybe the universe”. Again, the kids seemed to find the process of the film, specifically meetings, to be pretty dull. I hope that’s not what sunk the series, although I guess I could understand it. Budget may have been the primary issue, however, as Emily of “Happy Birthday 2U &U&U” states that they “didn’t have that kind of money” when it came to song rights.
Anyway, I’d like to thank all those behind these recently found films, whoever and wherever they are. You made the world weirder in a good way, and that’s always something I’ll support. -Roxie.