The Baker Orange

The Dam Keeper: An Oscar review

Story by Steven Stenebach, Writer

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Oscar buzz is alive and well. Critics and fans alike are all eager to predict who will win the awards. While opinions on who will win “Best Picture” are everywhere, I had the opportunity to view one of the smaller awards.

Liberty Hall in Lawrence screened the five films nominated for best animated short film, as well as four other films that were considered for nominations. Showing all the movies nominated for one category was a brilliant idea, and it really connected the audience and led to discussions about which one should win.

The entry that stood out above the rest was the American film “The Dam Keeper.” It tells the story of an unnamed pig who holds the sacred position of minding the dam, a large windmill that keeps pollution from overtaking the city he lives by. When he is not preparing the dam, our swinish hero goes to middle school, where he is mercilessly bullied by the other animal students. School life changes when a popular new fox moves in and befriends the pig.

The brilliance of the film shines in its ability to take fantasy settings and characters and have them interact with the current, realistic issue of bullying.

It also should be noted how incredibly cute this film is. The animation is beautiful stop-motion, and the scenes of the pollution overtaking the city are a visual delight. There is an especially clever visual joke of our porkish protagonist becoming increasingly filthy as he fixes the dam.

At 18 minutes, “The Dam Keeper” is much longer than its competition, but it rightly earns its extra length. It is by far my choice for best short animation.

The other films consist of “Feast,” a Disney crowd pleaser that explores a new couple’s relationship from the perspective of a dog’s eating habits; “The Bigger Picture,” a surreal British film about two brothers dealing with the illness and death of their mother; “The Single Life,” a Norwegian film about a vinyl record that travels through different moments in a single woman’s life; and “Me and My Moulton,” a Canadian film about a 7-year-old girl’s desire for a normal family despite her modernist art father.

I found each of the films enjoyable in their own way, but none of the films captured my mind and imagination quite as much as “The Dam Keeper.” It told a story with sophistication that exceeded its genre.