A couple days ago I posted my reviews of this year’s Oscar Nominees for Live Action Short Film. The animated ones overall were slightly underwhelming in comparison, but there were a couple a very bright spots – the very brightest of which didn’t even get nominated.
Wait… what? I’ll explain later. For now, here are my ranked reviews for the 2014 Oscar nominees for Best Animated Short…
5. Possessions (Japan/Japanese, 14 min)
A skilled handyman wandering through the woods in a storm seeks shelter in a seemingly abandoned shrine. The little hut is cluttered with various broken objects whose sprits haunt him until he fixes them. The premise is based on an old Japanese legend. Perhaps if I were more familiar with the legend or the culture from which it originated I would have gotten more out of this film. As it is the story seemed confusing and pointless. Many of the subtitles didn’t make much sense, and I can’t help but wonder if it was just a bad translation. Even so, the CGI was awkward and doesn’t blend well with the hand-drawn background. Overall, it just wasn’t that good. I quickly went from critical to bored.
4. Room on the Broom (UK/English, 26 min)
A witch and her cat ride around on their broom, stopping occasionally to take on more passengers, much to the cat’s increasing dismay. Like 2010 nominee, The Guffalo (and its not-nominated sequel The Gruffalo’s Child), this is a BBC production of a short children’s book, with a voice cast full of high profile names (Simon Pegg narrates). The problem with these films is they insist on using the original text, narrated word-for-word, with lots of pauses and dead space to fill out a half-hour TV slot. In doing so, they ruin the wonderful rhythm and rhyming scheme of that original text. The animation is skilled, and Broom in particular bests its formers with wonderful character work on the fantastically expressive cat. But the whole thing feels more like a glossy, expensive, yet over-long segment for Reading Rainbow.
3. Feral (USA/No dialogue, 12 min)
This is a beautiful hand-painted depiction of a feral child “rescued” from the woods and adopted by the hunter who found him. He is groomed for civilized life, but the grooming can only be skin deep. Though the story is clear enough, the telling is quite abstract. The screen is a series of gorgeous images that morph into one another, and each moment the imagery moves back and forth between concrete reality and symbolic dreamscape. The biggest potential pitfall with any work of abstract art is that it can have a tendency to sacrifice accessibility for expression. That’s somewhat the case here. The artistry that went into making this film is undeniable. But it wasn’t always entirely engaging or interesting.
2. Get a Horse! (USA/English, 6 min)
It was teased over a year ago as a long lost early Mickey Mouse cartoon. It turned out to be a new film blending traditional, grainy black and white animation with the most advanced and up to date 3D CGI. Mickey (voiced by some previously unused, archived recordings of Walt Disney himself) and his friends get into a chase that breaks through the screen and into the audience. Classic physics-bending cartoon hijinks ensue, with the help of modern technology to enable pranks the old Mickey would’ve never dreamed of. I loved this film when it screened in 3D before Frozen. In this program (and screeners sent to Oscar voters) it’s presented in 2D and loses a good deal of its technical appeal. Without that there’s not much of a story to prop it up (there never were in those old cartoons). Still, in 3D it’s a fantastic film.
1. Mr. Hublot (France/No dialogue, 12 min)
Mr. Hublot is fastidious shut-in with OCD, living in a fantastical steampunk/clockwork city populated by mechanical people. His world is turned upside-down when he rescues a stray robot dog that quickly grows too big and destructive for his perfectly ordered home. It’s an enormously sweet and touching little film. The characters are endearing and the design is stunningly beautiful. There are a couple times when a song comes in over a montage of events. The song is mixed a little too loud and feels a little distractingly out of place. But even so, it’s a sweet and enjoyable little ditty. This is my favorite of the animated nominees this year.
(It is not, however, my favorite of the year, as you’ll see below.)
HIGHLY COMMENDED – These programs often include a few other films that didn’t get nominated, in order to fill out a feature length slot. This year’s live action shorts were considerably longer on average, so that program stuck to the 5 nominees. But the animated program gave us a few others, including one that’s far and away better than everything else.
3-. A La Francaise (USA/No Dialogue, 7 min)
In 1700’s Versailles, all the rich, noble aristocracy are portrayed as hapless clucking chickens. It’s a pretty funny metaphor, but a simple one. There’s absolutely no depth here. Not much to say, really: reasonably enjoyable, and instantly forgettable.
3+.The Missing Scarf (Ireland/English, 7 min)
You’d be forgiven for thinking this is your standard children’s allegory about a cute little origami paper squirrel searching for his lost scarf, but you’d be oh so very wrong. In fact, it’s less of a story and more of a video essay on the nature of fear, with a final turn that’s surprisingly dark for adults, let alone any poor kids who might have been tricked into watching it. My mind kept thinking George Takei’s narration was going to rhyme or a least find a rhythm, but the fact that it never does only added to a certain level of discomfort that I’m pretty sure was intentional. It’s not a bad film at all, but watch at your own risk.
1+++!!!!!. The Blue Umbrella (USA/No Dialogue, 7 min)
Pixar is has been a staple in this category almost as often as it has in the Feature Animation. That the studio missed out on both this year is shocking and upsetting, but mostly for this one. It was paired with Monsters University in theaters, and while the latter was better than I expected, the former was the most wonderful thing on screen all night. In a photo-realistic city at night in the rain, a chance encounter between a blue and pink umbrella (the people carrying them are only seen by their matching galoshes) becomes a harrowing adventure, and ultimately a love story. Various objects in and around the street watch the proceedings with fantastic expressions created by ever so slightly bending already existing lines. The soundtrack is beautiful, and the story is incredibly touching. It’s the kind of film that’s so moving, so affecting, that I still get shivers up my spine even now, writing about it several days later. Despite whichever film wins the Oscar, this is in fact by far the Best Animated Short Film of the Year.