When Kobe Bryant revealed on Nov. 29, 2015, his plans to retire at the end of that NBA season, it was too soon for at least one longtime Lakers fan very near and dear to me to read the vessel "Black Mamba" used to deliver the news: his heartfelt poem "Dear Basketball."
It was not too soon exactly two years to the day later, when yours truly bucked up to hear Bryant's narration to a short film of the same name that rolls during the 19th annual Animation Show of Shows, which inhabits the Frida Cinema in downtown Santa Ana for a week starting Friday.
Dear Basketball was directed by former Disney animator Glen Keane, its music was scored by legendary film composer John Williams, and the executive producer is, of course, Bryant, under his Newport Beach multilevel business Kobe Inc. An arm of that is Kobe Studios, which aims to bring the stories of others to life in various media.
Having premiered in April at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York, Dear Basketball got a Southern California showing Nov. 16 at the Animation Expo in Los Angeles, where Keane and Bryant participated in an audience Q&A. On Dec. 4, it was named one of 10 animated shorts being considered for five animation slots at the next Academy Awards.
Before nailing down Dear Basketball, Bryant had several meetings with Keane, who before leaving Disney in 2012 to form his own production company had personally animated the title characters of Pete's Dragon, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Pocahontas, and Tarzan. But it's not those pictures that come to mind while watching the seven-minute short as much as it is those from the 1985 A-ha music video for the song "Take On Me." Bryant and Keane decided early on to have the animation drawn by hand rather than spit out by computer, with the idea of sketches getting filled in with more color as time marches on for a 6-year-old boy who ultimately realizes his dream of becoming a basketball star. It gives the piece a warm, genuine feeling.
Getting four-time Golden Globe, five-time Academy Award and 23-time Grammy winner Williams to take a couple of weeks off from scoring Star Wars: The Last Jedi to work on Bryant's passion project is not surprising when you learn they first met in 2014. Before Williams' orchestra performed at the Hollywood Bowl this past March, he called Bryant and asked him to read "Dear Basketball" onstage. Cold as ice at crunch time, the 2021 first ballot NBA Hall of Famer reportedly got emotional during the live read. So now I don't feel so bad waiting two years to experience it.
Dear Basketball lands around halftime of a loaded, 19th annual Animation Show of Shows program that features 16 works from not only the U.S., but also France, the U.K., Belgium, Sweden, Canada, Germany and Switzerland. Parents will be pleased to know the collection is more akin to the late, great Spike and Mike's Festival of Animation, as opposed to their nighttime Sick and Twisted Festival.
I'd prefer to not give away any more, except to say I highly recommend Can You Do It, French director Quentin Baillieux's imaginative collaboration with LA musician Charles X; the 1991 Gold Student Academy Award winner Next Door from Pete Docter, who went on to work at Pixar and direct the Oscar winners Up and Inside Out; Brit director Jac Clinch's inventive The Alan Dimension, which mixes stop-motion, 2D and CG animation; The Battle of San Romano, Swiss director Georges Schwizgebel's amazing deconstruction of a 15th-century Paolo Uccello painting; and Clémentine Frère, Aurore Gal, Yukiko Meignien, Anna Mertz, Robin Migliorelli and Romain Salvini's humorous 3D Gokurosama, which you'll think comes from Japan (since it is set in a mall there), but is actually from France.
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Also, don't miss the morality tale Hangman, which I'm near positive was shown to me at my California public school sometime after its 1964 release. Based on a Maurice Ogden poem narrated by veteran stage and screen actor Herschel Bernardi, who was the voice of Charlie the Tuna and the Jolly Green Giant during my childhood, Hangman was painstakingly restored by the Animation Show of Shows this year.
Animation Show of Shows at the Frida Cinema, 305 E. Fourth St., Santa Ana; thefridacinema.org. Opens Fri., 5:30 p.m. Runs through Thurs., Dec. 14. See website for show times. $7-$10.