I am lucky enough to live in a place that supports film and filmmakers; it’s a large enough city to attract indie movies and things other theaters may not be able to get.
Every year we attend the screening of the Oscar-Nominated Short Films, specifically the animated films. These can be some of the most creative films of the year, and it can be difficult to see them. It would be nice if, post Academy Awards, a compilation of all three Short Film nominees (animated, live action, documentary) could be made, but I do understand the logistics of copywrites makes it nigh on impossible for this to happen.
This year, as in years past, five short animated films were nominated, and three additional were given “highly commended” status.
“Get a Horse!” USA/ 6 minutes
From the Walt Disney Studios, this lively little short features a throw-back Mickey Mouse and his gang, in all their original black and white glory. It branches out into what audiences expect nowadays: full-color, 3D animation, all within the same frame. It’s an homage to the past and a nod to the present, and the antics are fun. My daughter saw this before a full-length feature animated movie this past fall, and was disappointed this particular screening was not in the eye-popping, glasses-required 3D as she had seen it previously.
“Mr. Hublot” Luxembourg, France/ 11 minutes
Made with CGI animation, this had a steampunk light look to it, with people partially incorporated machines and houses and furnishings made of stitched together leather. The basic story itself—a lonely man with OCD tendencies adopts a discarded mechanical puppy, and how his neatly ordered world must accommodate this change—is light as well. There was little character development, which would be fine in a short film that doesn’t show the obvious passing of time. Overall this was an all right piece, but left me feeling it was lacking the emotion the filmmakers seemed to want it to contain.
“Feral” USA/ 13 minutes
A take on old “wild children” stories, this is easily the prettiest film of the selections. Filled with neutral blacks and whites and greys, the animation of this piece is suggestive instead of detailed, minimalist instead of meticulous. I liked this style. It was a reminder that animation doesn’t have to be cartoon-y or extremely life-like; because it is restrained only by the animators vision and talent, this style works. It, like many of the other films, did not have dialogue. Unlike the others, it descended into an avant garde ending, which I think was both a blessing and a detriment. The general American film-going audience expects a certain story structure, and to have an open ended, unusual conclusion may not sit right with them.
“Possessions” Japan/ 14 minutes
Based on old Japanese folklore that says that objects that are over 100 years old take on spirits, this short film also contained elements of folktales from the world over of a simple man outwitting the spirit world. A tinker takes refuge from a storm in a seemingly abandoned one room shack. Through the night, it becomes a brightly lit, multi-roomed place, populated with the spirits of household objects that want to frighten and trick him. He wisely repairs all the broken and discarded things, puts them to rest, and escapes with a prayer. In the end, he exits the one room shack again, none the worse the wear for his odd overnight stay.
“Room on the Broom” UK/ 26 minutes
Made by the studio that adapted “The Gruffalo”, this half hour short features the voice talent of Gillian Anderson and Simon Pegg. The CGI style brings the picture book of a kindly witch who picks up a menagerie of animals—to the disgust of her cat—to life. The animation was spot-on, and there were several laugh out loud reactions from the audience, mostly to the facial expressions from the put-upon cat. Because it is also based on a young children’s book, the story itself was simplistic but with a feel-good ending.
The films that received the Highly Commended status were “A La Francaise” (France/ 7 minutes: a film made by students, re-creating an afternoon in Versailles, with the unexpected insertion of chickens in place of people); “The Missing Scarf” (Ireland/ 6 minutes: a deceptive story of a squirrel in search of his favorite scarf, who solves most—but not all—of his friends problems along the way); and “The Blue Umbrella” (USA/ 6 minutes: From the geniuses at Pixar Studios, a CGI film of the classic story: boy falls in love, loses girl, re-gains girl; featuring other inanimate objects and their facial expressions helping the story move along).
My prediction is that “Get a Horse!” will garner the award this year. It has the entire package: well-executed animation, a complete story, and engaging the audience. My personal pick, however, is “Possessions”, because I have a soft spot for the type of story that it is: a common person besting odd situations with aplomb.
If you get the chance, go see this presentation. You’ll be astounded by what smaller studios, studios that may not be household names like Pixar and Dreamworks, can do.