The Oscars are just three weeks away and once again the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has made the nominees in the shorts categories available to the general public. The Animated Shorts, which opened across the country in select theaters on January 30, are always a treat. And this year, the range of storytelling and technique on display is a sight to see.
The most crowd-pleasing of the bunch, and the likely winner, is surely Disney’s FEAST. It’s a deftly told story about a little pooch named Winston who develops a taste for human food from his generous male master. When a woman enters the picture and changes the doggie diet to something more wholesome, his frustration grows and his stomach isn’t the only thing that’s growling.
The story of FEAST is told by director Patrick Osborne with ambitious, fluid transitions that cover a lot of ground very quickly, and the animation technique is as lovely as it is emotive. It’s a hybrid of two-dimensional and three-dimensional, similar to the 2013 winner PAPERMAN, and it looks both old school and utterly modern. It may have benefited too from appearing as the short before Disney’s BIG HERO 6, which means a lot of Academy members will have seen it enough to vote for it.
Its competition is formidable however, and any of the other four finalists could be called. Giving FEAST a run for its money emotionally is THE DAM KEEPER, an American entry as well. It's the longest of the batch this year, clocking in at 18 minutes, and is a fable about the friendship between a pig and a fox. An unfortunate misunderstanding between the two of them creates hurt feelings and an ecological disaster for their community.
Over 8,000 paintings when into putting together the mesmerizing animation on display here in THE DAM KEEPER and the directors Robert Kondo and Daisuke Tsutsumi are at the top of their game. They used to work at Pixar and it shows what with their involving characters as well as their truly stunning visuals.
The most groundbreaking visual technique evident this year though can be found in Daisy Jacob’s THE BIGGER PICTURE. Hers is an audacious blend of mixed media utilizing wall paintings of people that interact with real objects. The simple story here concerns two brothers from the UK who struggle to take care of their elderly mother. THE BIGGER PICTURE has won or placed in a number of film festivals throughout the world, most notably Cannes, and you can see why it's been so heralded. The short manages to be very cheeky, yet poignant, in its deft eight minutes.
The shortest short, taking just under three minutes to tell its tale, is the Netherlands entry called A SINGLE LIFE. The story here concerns a young woman who plays a strange vinyl record and it becomes a sort of time machine. Each time she moves the needle around it jumps around her life. It ages her back and forth, with the later parts of the music grooves turning her into an old woman. It’s a wonderful visual joke as her age gets put through the wringer by the record player. And its punchline at the end of it all is the best of the bunch.
Yet, for my money, the highlight from this year’s final five was ME AND MY MOULTON from Canada. Torill Kove, who already won an Oscar for directing the short THE DANISH POET turns in another winner with this story about the strange family a young girl is growing up in and how all of it affects her self-image, her health, and her desire for a bicycle.
Filled with sly observations on family, this mature work is knowing, laugh-out-loud funny, and subtly moving. The 2-D line work here is minimalist and very old school, but it’s breezy storytelling and eccentric perspective is utterly fresh. And a lot happens despite its simplified technique. Pay particularly close attention to the shenanigans of the family cat in the background. Kove must be a cat owner. She’s also one cunning filmmaker.
All of the shorts, including the live action and documentary nominees, will become available on VOD in February. And no matter which short film takes the animation Oscar this year, it will be a very worthwhile winner. This year’s crop certainly pushes the boundaries of technique, and more importantly, they also tell great stories no matter how they’re drawn.