Film Analysis – 2015 Oscar Nominated Shorts (Animated)
It is an unfortunate fact that some of the least seen and distributed Academy Award nominees every year are the short films. There is usually a lot of talent and energy on display in these small gems, but with limited channels for distribution and few venues willing to show them, it is often difficult for the general public to know much of anything about them. Luckily, in this world of online services like Youtube where clips and shorts are passed around, some of these small works can get a second life. Often you can find the directors of tomorrow honing their craft here.
I’ve often thought that on Oscar night, I’ve wished they would just skip the dance numbers and just play all of the animated short films. It would often be way more entertaining. In any case, here is a rundown of the nominees for 2015:
The Bigger Picture
Daisy Jacobs and Christopher Hees are nominated here for a moody and serious tale of two brothers who quarrel while dealing with their elderly mother who is requiring greater ongoing health care. The animation style is artistically interesting. The characters are all two dimensional paintings on real flat surfaces. Occasionally depth is given to certain objects they handle like a vacuum cleaner or iron. But mostly the animators play with surfaces and depth perception. This movie is sad and humorless. It’s technique is quite interesting. And the characters are very, very British. But it feels so without joy that it seems to express just one note.
Me And My Moulton
This is a very sweet child’s eye view of family life and desire for a bicycle brought to us by nominee Torril Kove. This Norwegian short is narrated by the middle of three sisters. The girls ask for a new bike from their parents much like Ralphie wishes for his Red Rider BB Gun. During the aniticipation of the new bicycle, we get to see neighborhood and school life through this young girl’s eyes. The traditional hand drawn pencil and ink animation is colorful. It’s also nice to see a children’s story of a fairly relatable young female. Kid’s should have more girl protagonists. And getting a child’s story from a Scandinavian perspective is refreshing. This short is an all ages treat.
Feast is the annual Disney entry in the short category. This was the short that was attached to the beginning of Big Hero 6 this year, so of course it is probably the front runner to win the Oscar. It is a charming story of a puppy who bonds with his mostly unseen master through the food he’s given. At times mildly reminiscent of Family Dog in that it is wordless and the camera stays at a dog’s eye view, there is a lot of emotion shown by the pantomime of the nameless pup. Though the story is clever in how is shows a lifetime’s worth of emotion and relationships with this simple technique, this doesn’t quite live up to the standards of some of the previous years’ winners by Pixar (this one is just Disney studios, not Pixar itself). The success of CGI animation often stems from the character design choices and pacing. Look at the exquisite Geri’s Game or One Man Band or even last year’s delicately moving Paperman by the selfsame studio. Those all featured some wonderful computer rendering and characterization. Feast meanwhile looks a little fuzzy around the edges. The focus of the animation and the look of it in general isn’t quite right. It’s a good short, but there have been better.
A Single Life
This quick and witty short by Joris Oprins features a woman who is sent a mysterious vinyl record. When she plays it, it is magically able to control her progression through life. When she moves the needle around the song playing, she suddenly fast forwards to middle age or rewinds back to school age. A particularly funny gag involving a skip in the record while she’s stuck as an elderly woman with a walker works very well. This is another CGI creation that is animated with a great deal of charm. The whole work is under two and a half minutes, so the film wastes no time in setting up and establishing it’s premise. This almost feels like one of the world’s most clever music videos. It helps that the song featured is quite good. The song is performed by Happy Campers, a band that looks to be from the Netherlands. It strongly resembles the sound of She & Him because the lead singer is a remarkable soundalike for Zooey Deschanel.
The Dam Keeper
This is likely the short that I will be rooting for on Oscar night. Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi bring us the longest entry in this category. It’s a heartstring pulling tale of a little pig who has the job of keeping the dam that towers over his town maintained. However, when he goes to school he is relentlessly bullied. There is a new kid, a fox, whom he learns to befriend through drawing. However, the isolation that this little creature feels is painfully evoked by the exquisite painted animation. It looks like possibly watercolors on display that convey all of the emotions in this almost completely wordless film. All of the characters are animals of various kinds. They look sweet and harmless. But when this cute little character gets bullied, you really feel it. Anyone whose ever felt the lonlieness of childhood can relate to this story. It might be a tougher sell to the awards voters than some of the other entries, but it would be deserving to highlight this emotional short.
When these shorts are played together in theaters, they will be accompanied by some other shorts to fill out the program. One particular highlight is Duet which was done by a couple of Disney animators in their off time and honestly was one of the best things I saw in 2014. What the rules are governing that film and how it didn’t manage to get nominated I don’t begin to understand. But the combination of music and chalk drawing showing a boy and a girl growing up over the years is absolutely beautiful.
Animation is inherently interesting to watch. All of the nominees are worth at least a gander.