A little pig, who keeps his town safe from a cloud of pollution with his windmill dam, is ignored by a thankless public and bullied at school. When a new kid arrives, things begin to change.

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Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 6 wins & 2 nominations. See more awards »
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Storyline

A young pig with an important job, and a new friend who changes everything. In a desolate future, one small town has survived because of a large windmill dam that acts as a fan to keep out pollution. The dam's operator, Pig, works tirelessly to keep the sails spinning and protect the town, despite abuse from classmates and an indifferent public. When a new student joins Pig's class, nothing will be the same again. Written by Duncan Ramsay

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sketchbook | bullying | See All (2) »

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The Dam Keeper, an original animated short film by feature animation artists Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi, tells the tale of a young pig encumbered with an important job, and the meeting of a new classmate who changes everything.


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11 October 2014 (USA)  »

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O Vigia da Represa  »

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Quotes

Narrator: Dad had always said the job of a dam keeper is to keep the darkness away.
Narrator: But he never told me what to do when it surrounds you.
Narrator: His mask protected me from the cloud, but nothing I had, protected me from the people.
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Featured in The 87th Annual Academy Awards (2015) See more »

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The Dam Keeper is such an emotional journey
3 February 2015 | by See all my reviews

I just finished watching the Oscar nominated animated shorts (including: Me and My Moulton, Disney Feast, A Single Life, The Bigger Picture, etc.), and the one that stood out the most for me was "The Dam Keeper". It really struck the chords in making the emotional impact so beautiful and haunting with a shred of hope at the same time. Given how this was created by the Former Pixar Art Directors of Ratatouille, Toy Story 3 and Monsters University, Dice Tsutsumi and Robert Kondo (now in their own Independent studio a la Tonko House in Berkeley, CA), their attention to digital painting animation (using TVPaint to make pencil tests, and animate the paintings using Photoshop over the 3D models) brings to life of a storybook illustration, or a series of paintings (differing from Alexander Petrov's paint-on-glass animation technique) with their first effort into storytelling that managed to worked so well. After waiting for a year of film festival showings, it finally got the public release alongside the competitive shorts. It may not be one of the perfect shorts that has no flaws to find, but it has enough to call it one of the best animated shorts with the best technique, the best set of themes and characters, and a clear plot line throughout it.

Running at 18 minutes long (yeah it's the longest of the Oscar nominees), the story of The Dam Keeper opens with a narration by an adult version of a pig, named...well, Pig. He must check on the dam windmill spinning to avoid the air polluted clouds from sinking into the town. That and also deal with bullying by his classmates for not getting involved in social activities, being too dirty (since they don't know what he has been doing this whole time), and the fact that he's very silent (just like all the characters, but only resort to grunts and gestures than words). One day, a new classmate enters in Pig's class named, Fox the fox (redundant much? Well the extras' names are named after species). He is an artist and a more outgoing type of person than Pig. In that case, this changes the normal routine and his once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of making a friend who trust his instincts.

This is my favorite of the bunch. The reason why is just the emotional impact is so strong, and you can feel much on Pig and his thoughts from his encounters on bullying, importance of friendship, and willingness to be accepted in some way (for instance, Fox). The set up with the Dam windmill checking, and the air pollution blends into the representations of Pig's dilemma and internal struggles deeply. Not to mention that the environmental theme is subtle and not too preachy. While bullying has been written one-dimensionally in past works, I feel this was handled well here because of how Pig is an introvert who is not outgoing and keeps everything to himself while the classmates assume his isolation as weird and decide to prey on him (it does happen in real life with bullying as a concern for most public schools for kids and teens, so this has some relatable value for those who have been bullied or not comfortable with opening to their concerns). I really dig Pig and Fox's friendship and their dealings with the bullies. Their sense of wonder, curiosity, fun, sympathy, and trust in each other make their bonding believable. Something tells me that there may be more stories of their adventures (could be linked back to Dice Tsutsumi's Tweet on the possibility of more Pig and Fox adventures as asked by a reviewer). The flow and pacing felt like Studio Ghibli/Hayao Miyazaki, same as the music in Joe Hisaishi fashion, despite being simple, yet it works. The animation is one of the new breaking grounds never explored as much in mainstream or independent fare (well there are some that happened). It really got me inspired to try out the type of technique to produce some day (Dice and Robert's specialty are illustration, painting, and lighting, so you can tell that they put into the depths of each scene beautifully).

My only nitpick is that there wasn't much depth of Pig and Fox's classmates besides making their teasing reasonable throughout the short. It's regarding how their development grows through it all. If handled well on other classmates, the emotional impact would've been more heartbreaking and beautiful. I know it's Pig and Fox's story, but maybe show us more of the classmates' personalities than just them teasing Pig.

But overall for what it is, it's one of the best animated shorts I've ever seen, up there with Fantasia segments, Higher Sky by Eric Cheng, La Luna of Pixar, the Ghibli Museum shorts in Mitaka, Frederic Back's works, Alexander Petrov's paint on glass works, Yuri Norstein's works, and Thought of You dance music video. I wish Dice Tsutsumi and Robert Kondo along with their studio, Tonko House and animation crew members good luck in the Independent world without aid from the big studios, and keep on making more great shorts, maybe continuing Pig and Fox's story, and others in different mediums. Could it be true that they may be the American equivalent/spiritual successors of Studio Ghibli or Hayao Miyazaki/Isao Takahata? Maybe, but we'll see how it goes from there.


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