The 2017 Oscar-Nominated Animated Shorts: Innovation and Industry, by Alexander Miller
The Oscar-nominated animated shorts begin their theatrical tour tomorrow.
“Borrowed Time” is an unexpectedly mature western from Pixar, evaluating the nature of (as the title suggests) time, grief, and redemption – you know, the motifs you’d see in a western? The brilliance lies in discovering the shared DNA between Pixar and the western genre through universally touching themes regarding family, growth and endurance.
Opening with a sheriff returning to the scene where his father died years beforehand, through his recollections we learn that he served as a deputy under his father who was the presiding lawman. After a rousing wagon chase/shootout, Senior is sent off the side of a cliff and (spoiler) his son is incapable of saving him.
In a brilliant turn on what’s expected from Pixar, “Borrowed Time” rips the veneer off their preceding body of work as it roars through scenery echoing Monument Valley; it’s remarkably detailed and packs a certifiable punch. Solid technical execution is expected from a Pixar title and “Borrowed Time” delivers on that reputation, delivering a surprisingly mature and poignant feature. I certainly hope that this sliver of frontier intrigue is a preamble of a feature film, by the end of “Borrowed Time” I was left wanting to borrow more, and a full length western from Pixar would be a delight.
Following the unexpectedly assertive “Borrowed Time” was a sweetly-rendered coming-of-age tale as seen from the dashboard point of view of a hatchback. “Pearl” has a unique distinction as one of the frontrunning productions from Google Spotlight’s VR animation technology, utilizing the 360-degree immersive space with rotating shots making an experiential thread of a father-daughter relationship passing through the years through their love of music and each other. “Pearl” makes good use of its VR format and recalls the more saccharine side of the Linklater inspired Americana of hipster nostalgia. Patrick Osborne’s “Pearl” is likably cute because it’s easy to like, but the instructional sentiment feels thin.
Perhaps the most expressionistic use of the medium, Theodore Ushev’s “Blind Vaysha” recalls the traditions of Soviet animation in the spirit of the folky derivations of its forebearers. Delivered like a campfire tale, we’re introduced to Vaysha, a “special” girl who can see both the past with her left eye and the future with her right, thus leaving the present unseen. This setup is applied to the fiction of the story as well as the expected allegorical thrust one could anticipate with such a story. “Blind Vaysha” is brimming with visual innovation, and there’s no shortage of stirring imagery throughout; while it’s brimming with imaginative artistry, the theme is a little on the nose and a tad self-serious. Ushev’s animation is arresting, reverberating a type of Van Gogh, inspired Victorian engravings that live in a timeless quality by their expression, darkly beautiful but the broad message regarding the pitfalls of duality loses its resonance.
“Pear Cider and Cigarettes” clocks in with the longest runtime and is easily the most adult of the lot. Narrated from the director’s point of view, “Pear Cider and Cigarettes” is an autobiographical narrative recounting the exploits of his untameable wild childhood friend Techno, a self-destructive daredevil type who schemes and cheats his way through life. Techno’s unhinged indulgences lead to health complications and Valley’s friendship with Techno endures through years of trials and tribulations.
Valley’s singular style shines through the entirety of this free-form riff of a narrative. “Pear Cider and Cigarettes” is a Gen-X derivative with style becoming of a noir-infused graphic novel, contrasty pen and ink art style. It’s got a punk attitude in a way but values an aesthetic eloquence. Unapologetic straightforward and meaningful throughout, Valley makes no excuses for its subjects, nor should he! The animation is often used for the construct of fantasy, but Valley channels personal experience and anguish. Frustrating at certain points (as is the case for most stories centering on self-destructive characters) but deeply personal and resonant, Valley’s got style and delivers his punchy vision with energy and ingenuity. It’s bolstered with a pretty sweet soundtrack to boot, including Cypress Hill, Pink Floyd, Queens of the Stone Age, Wilco, The Dandy Warhols, Led Zeppelin, and Black Sabbath.
Transitioning from “Pear Cider and Cigarettes” to “Piper” took some adjusting, but it wasn’t hard to be seduced by the distinguished charm of Disney’s short, and ever-so-sweet style. Brevity is key, and “Piper” relies on the simplicity of nature and overcoming your natural fears, simple efficient and adorable. However, it’s not Disney’s way cherubism prettification of animals (of course the animals are patently cute), but it’s the detailed elements that make “Piper” delightful.