Monday, February 9, 2015

One Category at a Time: Animated Short

Year in and year out, this is always one of my favourite categories, boasting a wonderfully diverse array of styles that make it well worth your time to seek out the Oscar Shorts program that brings them to theatres. While I still lament that Glen Keane's stunning Duet was left on the sidelines (ditto Bill Plympton's trippy Footprints), there's still lots to enjoy in the five toons that made the cut.

The shortest of the shorts is A Single Life, which gets in, sets up its premise
(a vinyl record which can move time forward or backward), drops its morbid punchline, gets its laugh and gets out in under three minutes. The Academy has nominated a few of these short-sweet-and-to-the-point gag films in the past, such as Maestro, Octopadi and Fresh Guacamole, but they never stand a chance against contenders who are more substantial in both story material and length.

If you got out to see Best Animated Feature nominee Big Hero 6 last November, then you've already seen our next entrant, Disney's Feast. Depicting a romantic relationship from the ground POV of the couple's adorably voracious dog, it gets creativity points for how it tells the human story indirectly and even delivers a healthy moral about not eating your feelings. Its narrative thrust and feel-good payoff seem to be emulating the studio's Oscar-winning Paperman from two years back, and that's probably no accident. The film even looks to have been rendered with the same Meander software that Paperman used to combine CG animation with hand-drawn aesthetic to such beautiful effect. I'd say it has more than a decent chance at winning.

At the opposite end of the emotional spectrum, The Bigger Picture uses visual abstractions to explore the struggles of two brothers caring for their elderly, degenerating mother. Though it's probably too much of a downer to win over an appreciable contingent, there could be a lot of admiration votes for it unique animation method, combining life-sized paintings and models of it characters with real objects and spaces. Whether or not its story resonates, it's an impressive production to behold.

One of the nominees in this field is actually a past winner; Norwegian-Canadian animator Torill Kove, who took this category back in 2007 for her NFB short
The Danish Poet -- trumping The Little Matchgirl much to my frustration, but I can't begrudge any Can-con succeeding at the Oscars. Her current nomination is for the similarly styled Me and My Moulton, drawn with the same hard-lined minimalism and bright colours of her previous works. The somewhat autobiographical memoir of her growing up in Norway touches on themes of family and the desire to fit in, all with a light-hearted wit and flourishes of whimsy that make it highly palatable. Might be a dark horse.

But the one that stands out both for its gorgeous design and emotional power is The Dam Keeper. The original fable tells of a lonely pig tending a windmill that shields his town from toxic clouds lingering just beyond the dam, though nothing can protect him from the toxic bullying of his classmates and the townsfolk he dutifully protects. Thousands of hand-painted illustrations were made to achieve the film's glorious brush-stroke quality, and at a eighteen minutes in length, there's lots of time sit in awe of that beauty. But its the feeling of the piece -- the pathos elicited for our tormented hero, the elation of seeing him make a friend, the soul-crushing heartbreak of accepting his lot in life -- that sings far louder than any of its competition. That's enough to make it my bet for the Oscar, but hey, there are never any sure things in the short races.

Will win: The Dam Keeper
Runner-up: Feast

Should win: The Dam Keeper
Should have been nominated: Duet


  1. Hi Nazi,
    Can you share your track record in the shorts categories? In fact, mentioning your track record in all categories would be a nice improvement to your website.

    1. Might take some digging, but suffice it to say that my record in the shorts is not the greatest. I'll see what statistics I can unearth...

    2. Going back the last 11 years...

      Live-Action: 6-5
      Animated: 3-8
      Documentary: 5-6