2016 Oscar-Nominated Animated Shorts, by David Bax
It’s not every year there’s a clear front runner in the Academy’s animated shorts category. This year, however, one film has been tearing up the zeitgeist for so long, it almost seems unnecessary to even have the contest. Skipping the other movies, though, would be a bit of a loss.
“Sanjay’s Super Team“ is the perfunctory Pixar short this year. Director Sanjay Patel’s story of a boy who would rather play with his super hero dolls than pray with this father, the beats of the narrative are fairly predictable. Stylistically, however, it veers into kinetic psychedelia. The knee-jerk heartwarming conclusion betrays the overall mediocrity but the journey there is at least fun to watch.
Don Hertzfeldt’s “World of Tomorrow” is the one that has had this thing wrapped since premiering a year ago at the Sundance Film Festival. Hertzfeldt is already established as a purveyor of harshly comic but surprisingly poignant shorts that look simple but are technically complex. This one concerns a very young girl who is visited by an adult clone of herself from hundreds of years in the future in order to tell the child (Emily Prime) what is to come of her life. She is only doing this because she bears the memory of it having happened, which is just a hint of the temporal and logical gymnastic Hertzfeldt undertakes. He establishes the gulf between the two Emilys by including room tone sounds in Emily Prime’s voice but keeping the clone’s dialogue clear. But what he’s really getting at is his own prediction of the future, one where man and technology become closer but where memories and emotions bear the same power, no matter what vessel that carries them.
If there’s a clear worst to Hertzfeldt’s clear best, it would have to be Gabriel Osorio Vargas’ “Bear Story.” This sickly cute tale of a sad sack bear is full of ostensibly handmade sets, all rigorously constructed, brushed and patina-ed in overly busy CG animation. It’s making a blatant play for your heartstrings but this maudlin story is more likely to induce yawns than tears.
On the other hand, if there’s a challenger to “World of Tomorrow,” it’s definitely Konstantin Bronzit’s unassuming and amiable yet bittersweet “We Can’t Live Without Cosmos.” Its soft, 2D animation and vignettes capped off by punchlines are reminiscent of a Sunday paper cartoon strip. As the pieces assemble, though, this story of two cosmonauts in training who become close chums grows into a potent tale of friendship, eventually earning in simple strokes all the heartbreak and joy that evades “Bear Story.”
Finally, there’s the shortest of the bunch, Richard Williams’ “Prologue.” Starting with live action shots of colored pencil put to paper, the film continues in sketch form. It’s technically impressive, both in its animation style and its ability to relay a great deal of action. But the only real novelty to this tale of an ancient battle is that it’s far more bloody and violent than what usually comes to mind when you think of this category.