2015 Oscar-Nominated Shorts: Animation, by Sarah Brinks
This year’s Oscar animated short films are extremely varied in tone, style of animation, and subject matter. That variation created a very strong category this year for the Academy Awards. I do not envy the voters because I do not know which one I would choose this year. It is always incredible to see how filmmakers/animators are able to tell such remarkable stories in less than twenty minutes, and in one case in less than three.
A Single Life
Life often feels like it is speeding away. Just yesterday you were in grade school, or college, or getting married. “A Single Life” highlights those feelings by telling the story of an entire life in out of order moments. “A Single Life” is the shortest entry coming in at just over two minutes. The story is very simple; a woman is sitting down with a pizza when she receives a record titled “A Single Life” at her door. As she begins listening to the record her pizza disappears. She realizes that as she moves forwards and backwards on the record she moves forwards and backwards in time. This film is short but sweet and possibly my favorite of the nominated films. Pien Feith is the voice on the record and the song is catchy and fun. The directing and animating team behind “A Single Life” have mastered the difficult art of short story telling. “A Single Life” is clever, funny, and poignant all in about one hundred and thirty-five seconds.
The Dam Keeper
“The Dam Keeper” is at its roots a story about bullying and overcoming adversity. “The Dam Keeper” is about a pig who keeps an ash cloud away by running a windmill for his town. His role as dam keeper makes him dirty and thus he is picked on at school. With the exception of an opening monologue and a few laughs and oinks from the school children, “The Dam Keeper” is almost completely silent. “The Dam Keeper” is animated like a beautiful watercolor painting. It takes its time to tell the story, it is patient and that patience is paid off by the beauty of the story it tells. It is one the longest entries at almost eighteen minutes. A lovely orchestral soundtrack scores the film and matches the animation and story perfectly. “The Dam Keeper” captures the cruelty of children, the joy of newly formed friendships, the tragedy of lost family, the importance of responsibility and molds them into a compelling short film well deserving of its Oscar nomination.
Me and My Moulton
“Me and My Moulton” is a Norwegian short film that feels like a short bio-pic. Director and writer Torrill Kove tells the story of one summer growing up when she and her two sisters wanted a bicycle. She tells the story of how different her family was and how those differences were difficult sometimes. Her father was the only person in town with a moustache and they had to wear homemade clothes. Her downstairs neighbors were “normal” but they still had to deal with difficult things like divorce. There is a lot for viewers to relate to in this film. Everyone has felt like their family is different and how that can sometimes be really difficult, but sometimes it can be deeply satisfying. The film is simply animated and tells a real story but it felt a little empty. I believe it is Kove who narrates the film and it really just feels like a day-in-the-life story. Compared to the other nominated films, “Me and My Moulton” feels the least compelling. If nothing else, film taught me that Moulton is the name of a type of bike from England.
The Bigger Picture
“The Bigger Picture” tells the most adult story of the nominated films. Two adult brothers are dealing with the care of an aging mother. Nick is the primary care giver and does all of the work while Richard gets the credit as the favorite son. The animation style of the film is hard to describe but it looks like a moving flat painting. There are moments that feel like fantasy sequences but it is very difficult to really tell what they are. For example there is a moment when Nick vacuums up everything in a room including people. I have to admit that I didn’t like the animation of “The Bigger Picture.” I did like the story though and enjoyed its conclusion. I think my reaction the films style made it my least favorite film in this category but it tackles a difficult topic with sensitivity and insight.
“Feast” is this year’s Disney entry. And I think I can sum it up in one word: adorable. The film is about a puppy named Winston who is in almost every single frame of the six minute film. Admittedly I am a sucker for a dog, but the story of “Feast” is really sweet. A stray puppy is brought home by a man and fed dog food. The dog food starts getting topped by “people food” and Winston loves it. His owner eventually meets a nice girl and the burgers and pizza are replaced by veggies and fruit. Winston is disappointed but in the end he reunites his master and girlfriend and they all find a happy balance. “Feast” captures something that any pet owner has experienced, the magic of people and an animal becoming a family. Winston was saved from the streets by his master but Winston saved his masters relationship and everyone is better for it. Unlike last year’s entry into the animated short film category (“Get a Horse!”) Feast doesn’t rely on nostalgia but instead relies on good story telling and beautiful animation.