Short Starts is a column devoted to kicking off the week with a short film, typically one tied to a new release. Today we look at the directorial debut of Chris Renaud, who co-directed "Dr. Seuss' The Lorax," which opens Friday.
I love when there's a new animated feature opening because so many of their directors have helmed short films on their way from other animation tasks to the big time. The makers of "Dr. Seuss' The Lorax" are good examples. Co-director Kyle Balda worked as an animator for ILM and then Pixar before joining Universal's Illumination Entertainment for the studio's first feature, "Despicable Me." And he got his first three directorial credits in a lump sum helming (with Samuel Tourneux) the subsequent "Despicable Me" shorts "Home Makeover," "Orientation Day" and "Banana," which are included in the feature's home video releases (you can also see them all online if you do a quick search).
Then there's the new film's primary director, Chris Renaud, who started out as an illustrator and graphic designer before venturing into animation work with the Disney Channel and then Fox/Blue Sky, where he did storyboard art for films like "Robots," "Horton Hears a Who!" and the second and third "Ice Age" movies. He now has a deal with Illumination and made his feature directing debut with "Despicable Me." But his first job at the helm was back at Blue Sky for the "Ice Age" spin-off "No Time for Nuts," which he also wrote. This excellent sci-fi cartoon, which recalls classic Looney Tunes as well as "Twilight Zone," Ray Bradbury and (for me) "Time Bandits," earned Renaud an Oscar nomination (with Mike Thurmeier, who continues co-directing "Ice Age" works). Watch it in full here:
I love this short a lot, which is interesting since I don't really care much for the "Ice Age" franchise otherwise, and this includes the other shorts starring Scrat. His endless pursuit for an acorn can get old, especially if you think of the gag as just a copy of many classic cartoons starring Wile E. Coyote and other obsessives. But shorts like "No Time for Nuts" and those "Despicable Me" supplements deserve some credit for their cute and amusing visual storytelling — for the most part they're silent films — involving supporting, scene-stealing characters originating in so-so features. I especially love "No Time," though, for its dark humor involving death, war and disaster, presenting the past and the future as easily marked and illustrated with quick bits of catastrophe and tragedy. Y'know, for kids!
Fitting, I suppose, that Renaud has now directed a new version of "The Lorax," which Fox News is already criticizing for being liberal, tree-hugging propaganda (I'm sure it has nothing to do with this Seuss adaptation being from a competing studio, unlike "Horton," which was at Fox). The punch-line in "No Time" being that Scrat is trapped in a future without trees (or at least oak trees) definitely links the short with the environmentalist plot of "The Lorax." I haven't seen this new film, but I figure "No Time" will prepare you just a tiny bit. Of course, you can prepare more by watching another short, the 1972 Hawley Pratt-directed, Seuss-scripted, Friz Freleng-produced version of "The Lorax" for CBS. Watch the 25-minute adaptation featuring narration by Eddie Albert below: