Even the best movies for children tend to mire themselves in syrupy homilies during the last reel, but the New York International Children’s Film Festival’s winsome, daffy program of short films reshapes Love Thy Neighbor into something like a humanist endorsement of interspecies bonding. In the Norwegian stop-motion entry One Day a Man Bought a House, said homeowner’s efforts to rid himself of an overgrown rat (arsenic-laced salami, bear traps) are mistaken by the sentimental rodent gal as courtship bait, resulting in a wistful beauty-and-the-beast romance. The Nickelodeon-produced farce Edwurd Fudwupper Fibbed Big plumbs the pangalactic consequences (and unexpected merits) of telling whoppers, and features the gloriously stentorian voice of John Cleese as a giant three-eyed alien. Though it occasionally rises to the Dahlian whimsy promised by its title, the murky digital animation keeps Edwurd tethered to the lab: The vaguely animatronic characters lumber about on spherical limbs and emanate an off-putting metallic sheen. Channeling the narcotized dread of daily routine through spare, grainy animation, the Canadian urban-malaise rondeau When the Day Breaks projects a flickering city of sadness—albeit one populated by barnyard animals. Drolly existential, the film is a lovely treat for the caretakers in the audience.
Another all-ages show could be Michel Ocelot’s Princes and Princesses (unavailable for review at press time), his follow-up to last year’s NYICFF highlight, Kirikou and the Sorceress. And every demographic group is conscribed to attend the festival’s no-brainer centerpiece, the Aardman Animations showcase. Last summer’s Chicken Run and an accompanying making-of doc launch four nights of breathtaking don’t-blink craftsmanship and world-weary absurdism: the compleat Wallace & Gromit (the sublimely bonkers penguin run in The Wrong Trousers reaches dizzying heights on the big screen); a healthy sampling of Richard Goleszowski’s dry-witted, amiably deranged Rex the Runt series; and a catchall grouping of short films. These range from the long-overexposed Aardman-Quay Brothers promo for Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer” to Nick Park’s demi-masterpiece Creature Comforts, in which zoo residents—including anxious polar bears, nervously swallowing turtles, and an exasperated hyena—discuss their housing conditions with an off-camera reporter. You’re left hoping that these hilariously stoic inmates, all identifiable as members of the Aardman family by their clenched jaws and pinned, terrified eyes, borrow a chapter from Rocky and Ginger and plan their own great escape.