Oh, if only it were a normal year! Best Animated Short would be so much easier to predict if only it were a normal year! But as we've been observing throughout the season, this Oscar year is anything but normal, and that abnormality extends to the arena of live-action and animated short films. For the first time ever, they are being sent on screeners to Academy members, all of whom are now welcome to vote, going by nothing more than the honour system that they did indeed watch the nominated films.
Some of the logic guiding pundits through the Animated Short race (filled with delights on a yearly basis) is that block voting will benefit studio entries like Paperman and Maggie Simpson in “The Longest Daycare”, whereas the old voting system would certainly have been more advantageous to lengthier and more artistically rendered fare like Head Over Heels or Adam & Dog.
Watching Adam & Dog, it was clear to me that in a normal year, this would be the one to predict hands down. The gorgeously rendered watercolour backgrounds and lovingly hand-drawn animation make every frame a small visual masterpiece. Disney animator Minkyu Lee self-funded the project and may indeed have his fair share of supporters from the Disney voting block. I can easily see undecided members with no political allegiances voting for it on merit alone. It would be a handsome and well deserved winner.
As wide open as the race is, I sense there is a clear underdog in the form of PES' Fresh Guacamole. The minute-and-a-half claymation is ingeniously pulled off, but there's no story for voters to latch on to. As impressed as I was with its technique, I came away from it thinking, “That's it?”. I'd be surprised to see it win over competition with actual narratives and emotional resonance.
One that could ride some emotional resonance is Head Over Heels, a stop-motion film about an old couple who've grown so far apart they now live in separate gravitational fields! The student film by Timothy Reckart is imaginative in concept, but a bit rough around the edges in execution. That may have hurt it under the old rules, but with the Academy at large being less discerning about technical proficiency, it stands a good chance.
If studio block voting is going to lead to an upset, it could be for Maggie Simpson in “The Longest Daycare”. The Simpsons were one of the big influences of my childhood, and as an old fan I certainly couldn't sneeze at David Silverman's effort to bring the show's trademark wit and satire to the big screen for a few minutes. However, the cute little short is on the slight side, and certainly doesn't 'wow' viewers like its competition does. If it wins, you can bet it'll be on account of the Fox voting block.
Finally, regular readers will know that for months I've been head over heels in love with John Kahr's Paperman. The hopelessly romantic Disney short would have faced scrutiny on account of its studio origins under the old voting rules, but with a larger group of people, its mainstream appeal could seal it a much deserved victory. It certainly has the most buzz of the five, playing before Wreck-It Ralph in November and maintaining a surprisingly consistent media presence for its ground-breaking advancements in hybrid animation. I love it so much, that I'm compelled not to predict it. I just couldn't stand to be wrong.
Will win: Adam & Dog
Should win: Paperman
Should have been nominated: The Eagleman Stag