2013 Oscar-Nominated Animated Shorts, by Sarah Brinks
Film making, more then anything else, is story telling. In feature length films filmmakers have ninety minutes or more to tell a complete story. What is fascinating and truly masterful about short films are they tell a complete story in less then a third of that time but it is distilled down to its most essential parts. Some short filmmakers limit themselves even further by telling their stories with no dialogue, as is the case with two of this year’s nominees. If you are lucky enough to live somewhere that has a theater that shows the Oscar nominated shorts I highly recommend you check them out. This years submissions are all beautiful, very different, and poignant in their own way.
For any kid who had a hard time giving up their toys for a garage sale because they thought it would hurt the toys’ feeling, you will likely feel vindicated by the Japanese short film “Possessions.” According to the opening scroll, in Japan there is a belief that after one hundred years tools and instruments become possessed and sentient; those objects are called tsukumogmi. A Japanese “fix-it” man is walking through a rainy wood when he happens upon a run-down shed. He enters to seek shelter from the rain. Once inside the shed changes and he must fix items like umbrellas and kimonos that have been tattered and forgotten. The man learns to honor the past and save what he can. I am a bit of a pack rat in my day to day life and assign emotional weigh to objects, so I really connected to the idea of tsukumogmi. It is beautifully animated and a fun story.
“Feral” is in my opinion the most beautifully drawn/animated of the nominees. It is about a little boy found naked and alone in the woods who is taken in by a hunter. The hunter brings him to the city and feeds, washes, and clothes the little boy and even enrolls him in school. The little boy struggles to fit in and find his place among his own people. With the exception of breathing and children’s laughter, “Feral” is silent. It has beautiful score that accompanies it and adds a nice sense of emotional heft to the thirteen minute film. “Feral” uses disjointed imagery to show the boy’s emotional state. “Feral” tells many “fish out of water” stories while also telling the feral little boy’s story. Animator Daniel Sousa says that he uses a painter’s perspective when making films; his perspective is both dark and beautiful just like “Feral.”
“Mr Hublot” is set in a steampunk world where everything, even the flowers, are part mechanical. Mr. Hublot is a hermit with OCD. One day he sees a robot dog outside which is clearly abandoned and living on the street below his apartment. When he thinks the dog is in real danger he overcomes his OCD and agoraphobia and runs out to save him. It is a classic tale of human-thinks-he-is-saving-
Get a Horse!
“Get a Horse!” is Disney’s contribution to the shorts this year. “Get a Horse!” is a salute to the first days of animation while celebrating where it is today. “Get a Horse!” starts in the style of “Steamboat Willie” and then transitions to a blend of modern, computer generated animation and old, hand drawn animation. I’m afraid I’m not enough of an animation historian to use proper jargon but I think you get what I mean. “Get a Horse!” is the shortest submission at just six minutes. I think my biggest complaint about it is that it is a little mean spirited at the end towards Peg Leg Pete. I know it is a cartoon and violence in cartoons is meant to be absurd and funny but it felt a little vindictive after a while. Maybe I’m becoming too sensitive a viewer, but it is honestly how I felt. I did like “Get a Horse!,” though; it was nice to see the old style animation, mashed-up with the modern style.
Room on the Broom
“Room on the Broom” is the longest submission of the shorts at twenty-five minutes. It is about a kind-hearted witch who invites different animals to ride on her broom. It reminded me of a children’s book or bedtime story. What I mean is it is a charming story about acceptance, friendship, and teamwork. It is narrated by Simon Pegg and is all told in rhyming couplets. There are many other famous voices including Sally Hawkins, Robert Brydon, and Gillian Anderson. The film is animated to look like a drawn version of clay-mation and it is lovely to watch. The story and the animation are simple but the message it tells is a complicated and important one.
Each of the five short films nominated for this year in the Animated Shorts category are wildly different. They are all wonderful and charming. The Disney submission has been a shoo-in in the past but this year it has some stiff competition. Any of the films deserve to win and they certainly deserve to be seen by you.