Oscar Nominated Short Films…anyone that has ever done an office Oscar pool is familiar with these categories. These are the nominees with names of films you’ve never heard of and if you’re like me you usually pick the one that sounds the most Oscar-y or the one with the craziest title. For the past few years, the Academy has been packaging these films and presenting them in theaters or for download online to give audiences a chance to see these and maybe make more than a blind guess.
Below are my mini reviews of the five animated short film nominees for 2014.
Get a Horse!
Originally shown before Disney’s megahit (and Oscar nominated) Frozen, Get a Horse! begins like a Disney cartoon from the early days. The black and white and old-school design for Mickey, Minnie, and other assorted stalwarts gives way to a color romp that very nearly leaps off the screen. It’s a nice little cartoon but one that you realize worked better in 3D which is how I originally saw it. Without that extra depth it seemed flatter and less inventive because it was clearly designed to play as a 3D short. Still, the House of Mouse knows how to construct a cartoon that has a rhythm and vitality no studio has been able to duplicate.
When this Luxembourg/France co-production started I wasn’t sure that I was going to enjoy its steam punk design and overly busy animation style. Yet gradually the film won me over with its story about a silent OCD mechanized man that takes in a stray junkyard mutt made out of pieces you’d find at a, well, junkyard. Their burgeoning friendship provides little overall surprise but it’s so genuine that you can’t help feel your heart grow right along with the lovable mutt and his owner.
An interesting animation style using cutouts provides the true artistry of this nominee that follows a feral child being caught in the woods and instilled into an uppercrust society. Though it has the same through line as Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, the short has something that mid 80’s film didn’t…the ability to keep our interest. I wasn’t enamored with it, if I’m being honest, but there’s something decidedly spot-on about the way the filmmakers draw comparison to the wilds of the forest and the bewildering confusion of a growing urban society.
Arriving from Japan is this not for the kiddos short centered on a man traversing through a storm that seeks shelter in an abandoned shrine. He doesn’t know it, but what he thinks is a safe haven is really home to discarded objects with a life of their own. Strangely wonderful with several moments that made the hair on the back on my neck stand on end, this is a roughly animated affair using Japanese mythology as its framework. It’s probably the one short I’d have asked to watch again to catch more of the detail the director included.
Room on the Broom
From the creators of the 2011 Oscar nominee The Gruffalo comes this adaptation of a children’s picture book about a witch, her cat, and several new friends they meet along the way. Even if I didn’t know it was adapted from a child’s book its repetitive structure would have clued me in down to the very moment when the pages would have been turned. Featuring the voices of Simon Pegg (The World’s End) and Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine), among others, the stop-motion animation is gorgeous but the film runs way too long, longer than the other four nominees combined. If the film had tightened up a bit I think it could have shaved five minutes off and still been as effective.
The following films were added to pad the running length of the program and classified as Highly Regarded (meaning, close but no cigar to being nominated themselves)
À la française
It’s hard to believe this buoyant and crystalline entry from France didn’t make the cut. Set at the palace in Versailles during the Marie Antoinette days, this was my absolute favorite short of the entire program. Hens and roosters play all the roles, complete with fancy dresses, waistcoats, and wigs. Hysterically funny and incredibly wacky, I’ve sought out the film on YouTube and watched it several times since. Too bad this wasn’t one of the five nominees; it would have had my vote.
The Missing Scarf
Arriving after the sunny À la française, The Missing Scarf turns the happy happy joy joy of animation on its head as it follows a origami styled squirrel looking for his favorite scarf and helping his forest friends along the way. Narrated by George Takai, the film ends with a wham-bam of melancholy that I didn’t expect. This Irish production wins points for a fabulous color palette and crisp animation but is likely to inspire nightmares in younger children.
The Blue Umbrella
In past years, you can almost guarantee that a PIXAR short would make the cut for the top five Oscar nominees but this entry (shown before Monsters University) didn’t find itself onto the ballot. In a way, I can see why. It’s not your traditional PIXAR looking animation (which isn’t a bad thing) but the story doesn’t hold water. Two umbrellas meet in a rainstorm but are kept apart by chance…until various other city objects help them back together again. It has elements of last year’s Oscar winner, Paperman and a plot (and colors) lifted almost directly from Disney’s own Johnny Fedora and Alice Blue Bonnet classic short. Still, it may be my least favorite short that PIXAR has produced.