The Oscar Project
I think it is safe to say that "Lou" is the first of the 2017 Oscar Nominated films I saw. This short film was presented before showings of Cars 3's theatrical release starting in June of 2017. Since I have kids that are the right age to love pretty much anything Pixar sends our way, we trekked out to see this one in the theater (actually as part of a double feature with Despicable Me 3 at the drive-in.
As with most Pixar entries into the animated short film category, this one quickly jumps to the top of the list and when I first saw it, I had a strong feeling "Lou" would take home the Oscar this year. The story is simple and easy to relate to. A bully on the playground is taking other kids' toys, he must learn his lesson with the help of...well, Lou. The characters are a little goofy, but at the same time very genuine with easy to understand motives.
"Lou" is a cute story of a bully on the school playground and the strange creature that makes him atone for his transgressions. We see several kids playing during recess at school who are soon called in to class by the bell, leaving several toys strewn about the playground. The mysterious creature, who we can only assume is Lou, comes out of a wooden box, creeps around the playground picking up the items left behind, then setting them up like a store for when the children come back out to play. When recess begins again, the creature turns on an electronic game which beeps, getting the attention of several students who come running to reclaim their toys.
All seems well until a bully starts taking those same toys and stuffing them in his backpack. Lou watches from his box and gets increasingly angry before deciding to take matters into his own hands. Lou steals the bully's backpack and makes a break for the box he calls home. A chase ensues with Lou breaking into odd pieces and constantly transforming into different shapes to stay one step ahead of the bully.
As the chase concludes, the bully gets caught on a climbing net and his shorts slide down just enough for Lou to catch a glimpse of his underpants. Lou see's the bully's initials (J.J.) on the waistband of the underpants and we find out that Lou remembers seeing those same initials on a toy in the box (through a very effective flashback). Once we understand the background of the bully, it's clear why he is taking toys on the playground. He was once bullied himself and never found his special stuffed dog toy.
Lou offers the lost toy to J.J., in exchange for returning the toys he stole from other students. Of course it doesn't end there. Lou makes J.J. return ALL the missing items from the box before he will give up the stuffed dog. When J.J. returns to the box the last time, it is empty and Lou is gone. Upon closer inspection however, J.J. sees that one item is left, the dog he was looking for all along. He grabs the dog and promptly gets hit by a football from some other boys on the playground. They motion for him to join them and he happily runs off to play ball, leaving the empty box. The camera pans down and we see the Lost and Found box, missing three letters. L-O-U.
As mentioned above, I thought this was a sure winner with the Academy this year. Pixar short films have taken this prize so often, it almost seems like a given. "Lou" lives up to the high standard that Pixar has been setting in both short and feature length animation since the late 80s. It gives a cute moral lesson in a short period of time and we're happy because all of the characters in the story are happy, with the possible exception of Lou itself.
Lou is an odd character in that it doesn't technically even exist. It's a collection of whatever happens to be in the lost and found bin at the time, somehow brought to life by some internal or external force. As shown in the chase between J.J. and Lou around the playground, Lou can transform into any shape necessary to fit the situation. It uses balls for eyes, wanders around using the arms of a sweater for locomotion, and generally doesn't take the same shape twice.
(Small spoiler for the film Life)
I was reminded a bit of Calvin, the alien from Life (Jake Gyllenhall & Ryan Reynolds, 2017) when thinking back on the character of Lou. Obviously Calvin was a much more sinister manifestation of an amorphous life form, but the approach is similar. Both Lou and Calvin could adjust their makeup to fit through just about any space. They share an uncommon strength for something their size. OK, so maybe the similarities end there since Lou doesn't have quite the same aggressive tendencies as Calvin, but it was something that reminded me of the movement and general flow of the characters.
So why didn't "Lou" win this year?
I think two things may have played here, the first being that "Dear Basketball" was a great short film and despite everyone else's best effort, it was going to win hands down.
The second is simply that The Academy may have a little bit of Pixar fatigue. Though I haven't seen it yet, I've heard wonderful things about Coco and based on the past several years, it deserved to win the Animated Feature category. How many awards can one studio like this win? Since the creation of the Best Animated Feature category in 2001, Pixar films have won more than 50% (10 of 17). Don't get me wrong, in most cases I agree with these selections, (The Incredibles was better than Shark Tale and Shrek 2 and Zootopia was a clear winner last year) but it can get tiring for the same studio to win year after year.
Perhaps in another year, "Lou" might have taken home the trophy, but this year it wasn't meant to be. If you have kids (or ARE a kid) and haven't seen this little gem yet, check it out. You can probably find it on YouTube or on the DVD or Blu-Ray release of Cars 3.
Let me know your thoughts on "Lou" in the comments below.
I'm just a film buff who wants to watch great movies. Where else to find the best, than the list of those nominated by the Academy each year?