Synopsis: The reality of life’s joys, laughter and adventure told through the lens of the world’s best OSCAR® animated short films: A Single Life (The Netherlands), Me and My Moulton (Canada & Norway), The Bigger Picture (UK), The Dam Keeper (USA), plus a selection of highly commended bonus animation.
2015 Oscar Nominated Shorts – Animated 7.5
eyelights: the variety of animation styles.
eyesores: the run-of-the-mill, light-hearted content.
After seeing the set of Oscar-nominated live-action shorts at the cinema last week, I was pretty keen to see the animated ones too. Having once contemplated becoming a comic-book artist, I love seeing hand-drawn works of all genres. And, while animation isn’t always hand-drawn, it’s always very creative.
So I headed to the cinema.
I knew nothing about the shorts going in. I only knew that there were five finalists vying for the Oscar this year and that the programme was padded by a few more (no doubt due to their overall length – animated films are often much shorter than live action ones due to their very nature.).
The evening started with the five Academy Awards finalists:
1. Me and my Moulton: This 14-minute film features rudimentary 2D animation. It’s the story of the second of three girls, who are hoping that their parents will buy them a bicycle. The parents are nonconformists with modernist furniture and unconventional trains of thought. Their grandmother has peculiar beliefs, which she promotes strongly. Our protagonist, whose narration is a bit stilted, longs for normalcy; she’s envious of other families. We explore her life to the sounds of jazzy music until the family finally get the promised bike. It’s a light, droll film that got a few laughs. 7.5
2. Feast: This 6-minute short was produced by Walt Disney Animation Studio. It’s the story of a homeless dog who scrounges for food on the street until a man finds him and takes him home. Now named Winston, he is fed all sorts of mouth-watering human food (incl. pizza, spaghetti, …etc.). He is also taught to eat at the table. But then his owner gets a girlfriend, so he can no longer eat at the table and is only fed kibble. He’s disappointed, but she eventually breaks up with his master. Although he is fed yummy foods again, he sees that his master is unhappy, so Winston arranges for them to reconnect. It’s a feel-good hand-drawn 3D animated short. It looks quite good, but the story is nothing new; it’s cute, but not envelope-pushing. And yet, it won the Oscar. 8.0
3. The Bigger Picture: This 8-minute tale is made with paint, props, and some claymation. It’s about two sons and their aging mother. Nick, who is unemployed, stays at home to take care of his mom, but gets no respect from her; she favours her other son, even though he is pretty irresponsible. The siblings discuss putting her in a home, but soon they have to deal with her passing. Although the story was nothing new I loved the unusual visual style of the piece. At least they tried something different. 7.75
4. A Single Life: A woman receives a 7-inch record called “A Single Life” through the mail – and discovers that it permits her to jump to any point in her life, depending on where she places the needle. She gets to see her pregnancy, her old age, even her childhood. It’s quite amusing and the animation was superb. At two minutes in length, this gorgeously-rendered Claymation-style (but probably CGI) animation certainly didn’t overstay its welcome. 8.0
5. The Dam Keeper: This was the evening’s magnum opus, clocking in at 18 minutes. Although it was done on the computer, it looks like it was made with water colours or pastels. It’s the story of a small pig who is left in charge of the town’s dam when his father passes away. He’s derided and bullied by the other animals, who oink at him and hurt him. One day, a new kid, a fox, arrives at school. They bond over drawing. But he’s betrayed and, in a fit of hopelessness, doesn’t maintain the dam. There are great moral/ethical question here, but they aren’t explored especially well and the end is too easy. 7.5
The programmed continued with a handful of other highly-acclaimed shorts:
6. Sweet Cocoon: ‘Sweet Cocoon’ is a 3D CGI number about a caterpillar trying to fit in a cocoon, but who is far too overweight to squeeze in. So he gets the help of two other insects. It’s basically 6-minutes of silly, slap-sticky stuff. Good, not great. It’s surprising to me that it got an “honourable mention”. 6.75
7. Footprints: A man is woken up in the middle of the night by a hole being punched into his window. He sees footprints leading away from his door and decides to follow them, imagining in the culprit all manners of beasts. He travels far and wide, trying to catch up to the creature, only to find himself back at the beginning. ‘Footprints’ is a bit surreal, which was nice, and I liked the hand-drawn animation. Plus which its length of 4 minutes is perfect for this material. 7.25
8. Duet: This 4-minute short by Glen Keane, son of legendary cartoonist Bill Keane, is by far my favourite of the lot. It’s 2D animation that consists of what looks like fluorescent hand-drawn sketches (with crayons?) over a dark background. It’s very stylish-looking and fluid. It’s the story of a boy and his dog, of him growing up and falling in love with a girl – all to sweeping music. It actually looks and feels dreamy, romantic, epic – like a dance. It’s scintillating. 8.5
9. Histoires de bus: This one’s about a girl who grew up wanting to be her small town’s school bus driver. Her boss, known by the locals as “Killer”, is a rough hick. She’s quite intimidated by him, leading to some poor decisions, but she’s ever so optimistic. It’s an amusing bit, but nothing great. Clocking in at 11 minutes, and with very rudimentary animation, it’s a good thing that it was moderately entertaining. 7.25
What surprised me the most about the selections was how few of them pushed boundaries, even from a storytelling standpoint. Cute just doesn’t cut it for me; I also need to be challenged intellectually or moved in other ways. Unfortunately, the emotional palette was limited here.
I was also surprised to read that many of the animators and/or directors of these shorts had worked with Disney and/or Pixar. It feels like they’ve hijacked the medium (at least where the Academy Awards are concerned). Lord knows there is animation being done by more than just those studios…
But, all in all, it was a fun collection of short films. I don’t regret seeing them one bit as there were a number of good ones in there – or, at the very least, some interesting aspects to them. And at a breezy runtime of 73 minutes total, it’s not such a huge investment of time. It’s well worth seeing them.
Date of viewing: March 24, 2015