Film Review – Oscar Nominated Shorts (Animated)
While most people will be focusing on the big nominees at the Academy Awards (Picture, Director, etc.), one area that deserves more attention is the short film categories. Short films are an excellent way for artists to hone their craft and experiment. There’s more room to try new things, and if successful, their work could expand to possible feature length projects. In particular, the nominees for Best Animated Short showcase a wide variety of styles. From charming and humorous to dark and brooding, each of the five films has their own unique distinction. Let’s take a look at each of them:
Possessions (14: 52, Japan)
Shuhei Morita’s Possessions is a strange and surrealistic mystery, lacking a standard plot but maintaining a curious fascination at the same time. On a dark and stormy night, a lone traveler stops at what appears to be an abandoned shed seeking shelter for the night. He then enters a dreamlike world, where objects all around him attain lifelike ability. This includes torn umbrellas, wallpaper, and other random tools and instruments. The man – who wears a hat with an inscription translating to “Fix Anything ‘N Again” – begins to interact with these different things, mostly using his skills to repair anything that is broken or in shambles.
Is this a ghost story, or is everything happening in the mind of the main character? It is never specifically mentioned. What is clear is the beauty of the animation. With a vibrant color palette, and heavy dark lines similar to cel-shading, I enjoyed the short mostly on a visual basis. Though the story never grabbed me in a riveting way, the artistry of the animation is what kept me thoroughly engaged.
Room on the Broom (26: 45, UK)
The best way to describe Room on the Broom is “a cinematic children’s book.” From the character designs to the coloring, everything about it has simplistic but wholesome charm. Directed by Jan Lachauer and Max Lang (co-written by Lang and Julia Donaldson), the film feels like a combination of Wallace & Gromit and the work of Dr. Seuss. The narrator (Simon Pegg) even rhymes his dialogue, just as the classic Seuss stories do.
We’re introduced to a kind witch (Gillian Anderson) and her trusty cat companion (Rob Brydon) while traveling on the witch’s broom. Along their trip, the two meet other friends: a dog (Martin Clunes), a bird (Sally Hawkins), and a frog (David Walliams), all of whom join in on the adventure – much to the cat’s dismay. Their total weight combined makes it difficult for the broom it lift off. This proves to be a major problem when a fire-breathing dragon (Timothy Spall) chooses them to be his next meal.
The longest of the nominees, this is a delightful little romp with a nice message regarding friendship and camaraderie. Even when the dragon shows up, it never approaches being too frightening. The tension built reminds me of when children cover themselves under their blankets while their parents read them a bedtime story. This is a family adventure in its purest form.
Mr. Hublot (11: 46, France)
As soon as Mr. Hublot begins, we become fully aware of its immense detail. The style adopts a steam punk approach, with many earth tones filling in the color. Old and new are blended together, where the art and production design feels worn in and aged, but coming from some place in the distant future.
This is the setting for Mr. Hublot, a character who has withdrawn from the outside world due to his obsessive OCD. He continuously arranges everything in his apartment to be exactly as it should be, and can only leave after turning the light on and off for a specific number of times. His life of constant routine is upended once he takes in a mechanical dog from the street. While Mr. Hublot has affections for his newfound friend (and vice versa), his canine pal makes for an interesting difficulty regarding his quirky habits. Once the dog comes of age and develops to its full size, Mr. Hublot must make a decision regarding the living arrangement that will affect both of their lives forever.
This is a perfect example of a short film experimenting with its approach. The filmmakers (Direction by Laurent Witz/Alexandre Espigares, written by Witz) take the story of a man and his dog in a straightforward manner, but set it in a universe so unique that it breathes new life into familiar material. I wouldn’t mind returning to this world for a feature-length story someday.
Feral (12: 47, U.S.A.)
As the title may suggest, Daniel Sousa’s Feral is easily the darkest of all the nominees. Tracing the story of a young boy raised by wolves and brought back to civilization by a lone hunter, it is a sad and somber examination of what it means to be human.
The animation takes on an abstract style. Images are washed out with line work resembling charcoal drawings. Figures and shapes take exaggerated sizes and proportions, with certain details left out for dramatic effect. The filmmakers don’t hesitate to distort what we see, changing objects and molding them within the frame, as though we are watching them create the story as it is unfolding. All of this effects the movement as though we are watching living shadows. With the subject matter they’re tackling, the method is appropriate and just.
This reminds me of Francois Truffaut’s The Wild Child (1970), a feature-length film that tells the exact same story. I wonder if Sousa has seen it. The fact that Sousa’s work calls Truffaut to mind proves it is something to regard. Animation does not have to be relegated to children’s stories, but can be the basis for us to discuss the darker sides of human nature and development.
Get a Horse! (6: 00, U.S.A.)
Disney has dominated the animation world longer than many of us have been alive, and with Get a Horse!, they show once again why they have lead the way for such a long time. It may not be the best short film they’ve made, but it accomplishes exactly what it sets out to.
Directed by Lauren MacMullan, the film gives a nod to Disney’s past while also embracing the possibilities of its future. Starting off like an old black and white cartoon, the plot has Disney regulars Mickey and Minnie Mouse trying to avoid the no good Peg-Leg Pete while traveling down a road on a wagon. But as the hijinks commence, the film takes on an entirely different “dimension” as characters literally burst through the screen. Using a combination of hand drawn, digital, and 3D animation, the characters transition between black and white to full-blown color, using the screen as a gateway between the past and the present. It’s difficult to describe, and may only be fully appreciated when seen.
It’s an imaginative way to combine two styles of animation. I enjoyed the little details the filmmakers used to call back to their roots, such as using archival recordings of Walt Disney to voice Mickey. It’s an energetic short that takes advantage of every second of its runtime. If there is any downside here, it’s in regard to the 2D hand drawn animation. It’s well known that Disney Studios have downsized their hand drawn department, with no plans of a feature film in the near future. Too bad, since this and last year’s Paperman show there is still a place for it, even if it’s only in short film form.
Five short films, each with their different identities. While I’m not a betting man, I’m sure the favorite to win the Oscar is the one coming from the already well-established studio (that’s the nature of the beast, for better or for worse). But each one has something to offer, and I encourage anyone interested to seek them out if they can.