Jan 31, 2014

The Oscar Nominees: Animated Shorts

In Shuhei Morita's Possessions, the ghosts of discarded objects haunt a man seeking refuge in an abandoned temple. (Image courtesy of ShortsHD and AMPAS.)
Some Oscar-nominated filmmakers, the ones who write and produce the cinematic equivalent of the short story, rarely get the critical attention they deserve. They make “short subjects,” Animated, Live Action and Documentary movies of less than 40 minutes. This post is a review of the 2014 Animated shorts. To read my published reviews of the 2014 Live Action and Documentary categories, click on the links to the right in “Film Reviews (Online).”

Feral (USA, 13 minutes) by Daniel Sousa, Dan Golden

A still from Feral in which a "wild child" grapples with his true identity. (Courtesy of ShortsHD and AMPAS.)

This “wild child” tale is rendered in sharp, menacing drawings, mostly black on a white or gray background, appropriate to the film’s dramatic subject matter. The boy at the center of the story seems to shape-shift from boy to wolf; a hunter “rescues” him, and for a short time, he wears clothes, attends school and struggles with living indoors. Like many a child before him, he is tested in the schoolyard when he is jeered at by the other students. He reverts to wolf and bares his teeth. It is not long before the boy heads out of the city, shedding all vestiges of “civilization.” While the story’s denouement is enigmatic, it is also quite stunning—and the music, by composer Golden, is affecting. This is a simple, yet beautifully realized short.

Get a Horse! (USA, 6 minutes) by Lauren MacMullan, Dorothy McKim

It was only a matter of time before Mickey and Minnie went 3-D, as they do in this clever, fast-paced cartoon in which the mice, as usual, do battle with a demon cat. A rare female filmmaking team make quick work of updating the old characters, allowing them to leap in and out of the screen, and from black and white to color. Even those for whom the anthropomorphic mouse holds little appeal will smile at the skill and imagination illustrated by MacMullan and McKim.

Mr. Hublot (Luxembourg, France, 12 minutes) by Laurent Witz, Alexandre Espigares

A still from Mr. Hublot, where the eponymous character checks on his metal flowers. (Courtesy of ShortsHD and AMPAS.)

 This short is a man and dog story set in a future where everything appears to be made of scrap metal, including the title character. A fastidious sort, Mr. Hublot lives by the clock until someone dumps a puppy on the street below his apartment. Excellent 3-D design and character modeling are accompanied by a delightful score by Francois Rousselo.

Possessions (Japan, 14 minutes) by Shuhei Morita

By far the most original of the animated shorts, Possessions is a ghost story about the Tsukumogami, discarded objects that, kept for one hundred years, gain a soul and come to life. Reminiscent of the wood block prints of 18th century artist Utagawa Kuniyoshi, Morita’s film begins with a man caught in a storm. He seeks shelter in an abandoned temple, but as he drifts off to sleep, torn paper umbrellas spring to life around him, begging for repair. The man has a toolbox, and incredible restoration skills and, just as he completes the umbrellas, he finds that these are not the last of the ghosts. Upon reflection, Possessions presents a frightening possibility—and the filmmaker suggests that few of us would escape these ghosts as gracefully as his character finally does.

Room on the Broom (UK, 26 minutes) by Max Lang, Jan Lachauer.

Room on the Broom will test the mettle of adults because of its length, but children will love seeing these quirky characters come to life on the screen. The film’s eye-popping colors and poetic narration are delightful. The “message” is excellent as well: An ugly witch with a kind heart cannot resist creatures who are outsiders to their kind. Much to the dismay of her longstanding companion, an orange cat, the witch adds a flea-bitten dog, a bright green bird and a fastidious frog to their broomstick. Soon, the weight proves too much, and a flying dragon sees his opportunity for an evening meal of “witch n’chips.”

If you are a parent who has never attended a shorts program, you might consider this review and links to the others with an eye toward age appropriateness. For instance, in the Animated category this year two movies are appropriate for young children (under the age of six), Room on the Broom (based on the book by Julia Donaldson) and Mr. Hublot. Young children may also appreciate Get a Horse!, although it moves quite fast and the jokes are aimed at an older child or an adult. Bear in mind that the shorts program at your local theater may screen with Live Action and Documentary, which are not intended for young audiences.

The theatrical release of the shorts program, which includes all or some of the Oscar-nominated films and a few “highly commended” ones, opens theatrically around the country today, January 31st. To find a theater, go here: http://shorts.tv/theoscarshorts/dates-locations/ . The shorts will also be available on streaming websites at some point after the Oscar ceremony.