Since Pixar burst onto the animated-short scene in 1986, it's always been the flashiest and funniest competitor in the Oscar category—until now. Sure, "Presto" has all the glossy panache we've come to expect from the studio. But the real gem this year is "Oktapodi," a student-made film from Paris. The plot is simple: the film opens on two octopi caressing each other with tender tentacles. Romantic violin music plays. Suddenly, one of the squid is snatched from the water (a fish tank, it turns out). As its lover watches, the creature is packed on ice and loaded into a restaurant van. The tank-bound puss's eyes bulge, in classic animated-critter style, as the fate of its paramour becomes ominously clear. But love knows no obstacles, and the little fella (or lass?) flaps and flops its slimy way to the rescue.
The creators deftly exploit the comic possibilities of octopus form, with squelches and suction cups galore. And they've hit upon an apt villain in the van driver—like so many humans in toon land, he's scared by what he doesn't understand and goes to dangerous lengths to destroy the octopi. All this against a mouthwatering backdrop of whitewashed Greek alleys and blue sea haze. Pixar should give "Oktapodi's" creators a job, and quick. If you can't beat 'em, hire 'em.