February 28th, 2011 / 9:15 pm
Author Spotlight

Oscar Recap: Something Good Won

One of the winners at last night’s Oscars was a short animated film by a guy named Shaun Tan. The film is called The Lost Thing. And it was far and away the best of the nominated shorts. (The Pixar thing was fine. The pollution thing was fine. The Gruffalo was kind of terrible. The Madagascar piece looked nice but was sort of empty.) But, deserved to win, did win. Who knew?

Here I admit a bit of a bias: I really like Shaun Tan. So I was bound to favor his piece over any of the others. And I really like Shaun Tan because I really, really like his bookThe Red Tree.

And I really, really, really like The Red Tree because it does something remarkable, something you rarely see a kids book—a picture book, no less—do. The Red Tree dares to tell kids that in life they will sometimes be unhappy. And The Red Tree further dares to tell kids that sometimes it’s okay to be unhappy. Which, in a way, seems sort of revolutionary.

If you are a young person given to depression, you spend most of your time being told not to indicate through your tone, your facial expression, or your leisure time activities, that you are a young person given to depression. You are mostly told to be happy. And so a consequence of being a young person given to depression is that you are made to feel shitty about being a young person given to depression. Which makes you a heck of a lot more depressed. The Red Tree is a beautiful, surreal, and kind of gently defiant middle finger to all of that. Reading the book for the first time, I was struck wondering what it would’ve been like to—as a young person given to depression—be aware that said gently defiant middle finger was an option. It would’ve been nice to raise said gently defiant middle finger now and again to, say, some of my teachers. The Red Tree didn’t quite arrive in time for that. But it’s here now. And it’s nice to raise said gently defiant middle finger to myself when I chastise myself for a dreary mood.

So, good for Shaun Tan. The Lost Thing is not The Red Tree. It doesn’t hit me like The Red Tree does. But it’s pretty good. And Tan deserves a wider audience. If only so he can sell a big pile of copies of The Red Tree and a lot of young people given to depression can become familiar with the gently defiant middle finger option.

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  1. Rion Amilcar Scott

      The Lost Thing was by and away the best one. It was sad and filled with emotion. Gruffalo wasn’t bad to me, just ordinary and not up to the hype and the star power. Let’s pollute was funny and dark. The Pixar joint was, as you said, fine. Madagascar kinda sucked. I never heard of Shaun Tan so thanks for posting this. I love children’s books, especially those that cut through all the bullshit so I’ll probably pick up the Red Tent for my, um, son at some point.

      Did you see these at the National Archives on Saturday? I was there. Sat next to a very nice Tea Party member (she works for a new tea party representative in the house) we had a good conversation in line and in the show, but we didn’t get too deep into politics as it was clear we are on different sides and a tense debate would have ruined the cartoon shorts viewing.

  2. Ken Baumann
  3. Anonymous


  4. Wrewtf25


  5. Matthew Simmons

      Saw it in Seattle, bundled with the live action shorts.

      The right film won live action, too. Three of the five were terrible.

  6. Matthew Simmons

      Kind of loved that. Had Restrepo in the pool, though.

  7. Anonymous