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'Krumpet' win leaves Disney speechless

The dark Australian film's selection as best animated short may have saved Eisner from more public criticism.

March 01, 2004|Scott Timberg | Times Staff Writer

This was supposed to be the year the big studios took back the animated short for the first time in decades: The academy's nominees list was unusual for recognizing shorts from the three major animation studios -- Disney ("Destino"), Pixar ("Boundin' ") and the Fox-owned boutique Blue Sky ("Gone Nutty").

But though "Destino," the surrealistic collaboration between Roy Disney and artist Salvador Dali, was the favorite, the Oscar for best animated short went to "Harvie Krumpet," a 23-minute Australian film with a dark and ironic streak.

The film's Melbourne-based writer-director, Adam Elliot, 32, thanked his "uncle Geoffrey Rush," who narrated the claymation film and lent him equipment.

"Harvie Krumpet" tells the story of a pathetic but soulful man, born in Poland to a poor family who dotes on him, whose luck just seems to get worse.

The other independently produced short nominated this year was the Canadian "Nibbles," a frantic and almost abstract film directed by Christopher Hinton.

Until Sunday, the 2004 Oscar nominations had made a relatively obscure category congruent with a much exposed Hollywood controversy.

The Dali-Disney collaboration, "Destino," the musical story of a woman pursuing her lover, was not just a visually ambitious project half a century in the making. It was also expected to become an opportunity for Roy Disney, the film's executive producer and nephew of the studio's legendary founder, to celebrate his own savvy and possibly to take a public swing at Michael Eisner, the company's embattled chairman, with whom Disney has been feuding.

Roy Disney discovered the film -- left unfinished in the mid-1940s, after a brief period where Dali toiled at the Disney lot from 9 to 5 each day -- in 1999, while he was putting together "Fantasia 2000." He set about finishing it without telling Eisner.

"Eisner was not aware of it," Disney, who resigned from the studio's board last year, told The Times earlier this month. "There didn't seem to be a compelling reason for him to know about it. It was one of those projects best done quietly without any help.... The fewer hands, the better."

An award would have also been a stroke of good news for a company experiencing a feud at the top and its future up for grabs because of a takeover bid from Comcast Corp.

Much of the Hollywood animation community, which has watched as Eisner laid off animators in Burbank and elsewhere, was rooting for "Destino" and Roy Disney, who has championed traditional hand-drawn animation.

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