BEST ANIMATED SHORT
Taking a page from the Guillermo del Toro playbook, I’ll tell you the feeling that animation is just for children is archaic. One need only look at this diverse group of 2023 nominees for Best Animated Short to see the range of offerings, not just in the medium but in the voices of the creators and the audiences they are speaking to. Each short is a 180-degree shift from its predecessor, giving the viewer a kaleidoscope of colors and ideas to sift through. No, you’re not going to love all of these, but each brings its point of view to the forefront quickly with excellent ease.
An Ostrich Told Me the World Is Fake and I Think I Believe It (Directed by Lachlan Pendragon)
Synopsis: When a mysterious talking ostrich confronts a young telemarketer, he learns that the universe is stop-motion animation. He must put aside his dwindling toaster sales and focus on convincing his colleagues of his terrifying discovery.
Review: This stop-motion animation entry is a real treat. Capturing the mundanity of the daily office grind with a meta-statement of the corporate work environment is quite on the money. That it’s also funny with sharp wit is almost a bonus. Visually a feast for the eyes (you’ll likely want to make yourself available to watch it twice to catch all of the nuances) and nicely molded into its short package, keep your eyes on this director for future work.
Ice Merchants (Directed by João Gonzalez)
Synopsis: Every day, a father and his son jump with a parachute from their vertiginous cold house, attached to a cliff, to go to the village on the ground, far away, where they sell the ice they produce daily.
Review: In past years, I’d read the descriptions of the shorts before I sat down to watch, but this year I opted to go in blind. That helped in some cases and put me a little behind in others. Ice Merchants is one title that takes a little bit to latch onto, but when you do, it becomes a momentously rewarding endeavor that’s coupled with pristine hand-drawn animation. It’s also surprisingly suspenseful, leading me actually to gasp a few times. By the end, I was consumed by a different emotion entirely. This is an inventive, sensitive, wonderful short.
My Year of Dicks (Directed by Sara Gunnarsdóttir)
Synopsis: An imaginative fifteen-year-old is stubbornly determined to lose her virginity despite the pathetic pickings in the outskirts of Houston in the early 90s. Created by Pamela Ribon from her critically-acclaimed memoir.
Review: Chuckle chuckle chuckle, yes, the title makes everyone giggle, and it’s maybe funny enough for voters in your office pool to check off just because it’s the most obvious choice. True, this short, based on Pamela Ribon’s memoir, is about her experience trying to lose her virginity and the men in her life that weren’t the best candidates for the job. Told in five chapters employing distinct animation styles, it’s a pleasant watch and by far the most adult-oriented entry in this crop. It has the most distinct voice of the nominees, and that could either be a stroke of good luck for voters setting out to reward clarified points of view or deter others unable to relate.
The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse (Directed by Peter Baynton, Charlie Mackesy)
Synopsis: Based on the book of the same name; a story of kindness, courage, and hope in traditional hand-drawn animation, following the unlikely friendship of the title characters as they journey in search of the boy’s home.
Review: I’d been watching a lot of content on AppleTV+ lately and therefore had fallen victim to early buzz for The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse. I don’t want to say that I unfairly set the bar high for it, but it seemed like I already knew what I was about to see before this nicely made but totally inert short began. Filled with so many anachronistic statements you’d think the writers raided a fortune cookie factory, it’s obviously a great title for parents to throw on for kids…and then leave the room because much of it is so overly sugar-soaked you may gag.
The Flying Sailor (Directed by Amanda Forbis, Wendy Tilby)
Synopsis: In 1917, two ships collided in Halifax Harbour, causing the largest accidental explosion in history. Among the tragic stories of the disaster is the remarkable account of a sailor who, blown skyward from the docks, flew a distance of two kilometers before landing uphill, naked and unharmed. The Flying Sailor is a contemplation of his journey.
Review: Based on a true story, when The Flying Sailor began, I was briefly excited by the cheery animation (once again, each nominee this year represents a unique style) introducing a jolly sailor in a Halifax seaport. Then…things got weird. Like, naked weird. No problems with nudity here, but there’s just a lot of dangling animated dong on display in the telling. Surrealism is appreciated, but it quickly grows ponderous and repetitive. Once a point is made, it doesn’t need to be restated repeatedly; once that happens, the audience starts to drift.
Final Thoughts: If we’re going with my personal favorite, I’ll say that Ice Merchants is pretty and terrific (and pretty terrific). Not only is it beautiful to look at, even with a limited color palette, but it’s structured and designed with the same type of big swing emotions and high stakes we miss in our studio blockbusters. That you have to work a little harder at the beginning to worm your way into the story makes the finale all the more poignant. Second place was An Ostrich Told Me the World Is Fake, and I Think I Believe It for pure ingenuity and charm, and then My Year of Dicks for being the most direct with its voice and on-target humor. Speaking of the male organ, The Flying Sailor‘s animation is pleasing to the eye, even with the copious amounts of hand-drawn dingus. The one I actively do not want to win, noble intentions aside, is The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse. That kind of unrelenting emotional inwardness is fine for the written page where it came from, but the film is unbearably goopy.