If there’s one thing that unifies this year’s stellar crop of Oscar-nominated animated shorts, it’s that each one is wildly different to the others. Hailing from all around the world, dealing with a diverse range of subjects and tones, and each with their own wonderfully unique style of animation, it’s safe to say that there’s something in this roster to suit every taste. The nominated films range from a student-made meditation on responsibility and brotherhood (The Bigger Picture) to a high-budgeted Disney tale about a dog on a diet that was seen by millions (Feast), via a wickedly dark portrait of the ravages of time (A Single Life). Famously one of the least-seen categories every year by the notoriously lazy Academy voters, the Best Animated Short category is nonetheless a fascinating insight into what incredible ideas the most cutting-edge talents in the field are dreaming up. Here ORWAV will guide you through this year’s list of nominees, which represent among the best work the animation world has to offer. All (except Feast) are available on VOD here for a small fee.
The Bigger Picture (Daisy Jacobs & Christopher Hees, UK)
The only student-made animation in the competition, the BAFTA-winning short The Bigger Picture is flying the flag alone this year for British animation. Made by ingeniously utilising both physical 3D objects and 2D painting techniques, this dark and unusual tale of familial responsibility is perhaps the most “grown-up” of the nominees. The film tells the sad tale of Nick, whose arrogant city-boy brother Rich does not pull his weight when it comes to caring for their terminally ill mother. Featuring some powerful, and at times amusing, surreal imagery (Nick sucking up an entire room with a vacuum cleaner comes to mind), heavy use of water-as-metaphor and some meaningful match-cuts, this visually inventive and understated film handles its subject matter intelligently. A well-pitched, modestly upbeat ending prevents the film from becoming too dark.
The Dam Keeper (Robert Kondo & Daisuke Tsutsumi, USA)
At 18 minutes long, The Dam Keeper is the lengthiest of this year’s nominees – but boy, does it earn its running time. Almost wordless, this gorgeously painted and animated fable tells the story of a young pig who has been entrusted by his father to run the town’s dam, which keeps “The Darkness” at bay. Bullied relentlessly by his classmates, he befriends the town’s latest inhabitant – a fox with a love for sketching the poor pig’s tormentors in unflattering ways. However, due to a misunderstanding we learn what happens when the pig decides he no longer wants to protect the town’s ungrateful citizens. Its major strengths lying in the wonderful and picturesque world created by the luscious art design, and the rich, stirring score. The Dam Keeper is equal parts poignant, tragic, and beautiful, with a large slab of “adorable” in there for good measure. (Fun fact: co-creator Daisuke Tsutsumi is married to a niece of animation legend Hayao Miyazaki).
Feast (Patrick Osborne & Kristina Reed, USA)
Shown prior to Disney’s animated smash hit Big Hero 6, Feast is without a doubt this year’s most widely-seen animated short – but does it live up to the sky-high standards Disney/Pixar have set for themselves? In short, yes. As slickly animated and as touchingly sweet as we’ve come to expect from those studios, Feast begins with the tale of a greedy dog who develops a taste for decadent human dining and must go on a diet, but gently morphs into a love story as seen through his eyes. Much like Disney’s previous winner in 2012, Paperman, this largely wordless short is a story of human love guided by extraneous forces – it sees the continued efforts of the animation industry as a whole attempting to recreate the humanity and magic that Pixar’s Up achieved. Disney seem to have done it – apparently greeted by a “stomping ovation” at its world premiere, Feast looks like this year’s film to beat.
Me and My Moulton (Torill Kove, Norway/Canada)
By far the most stylistically simple of the nominees, the quiet and understated Me and My Moulton is a tale of growing up as told through the eyes of the youngest daughter of a pair of post-modern architect parents whose dream in life is to own a bicycle just like her friend’s. The naive and childlike narration lends an innocent perception to some implied “adult” themes, and allows us to draw our own conclusions about the film’s low-key events. The film expertly captures the moment when a child realises that their parents are imperfect, flawed human beings: when the three daughters see that their parents have got the bike of their dreams rather than their childrens’, the daughters grow in the frame to dwarf their suddenly fallible parents. It’s a tense moment – however, in a key juncture of growing up, they accept their parents’ mistake and gratefully accept the gift of a Moulton bicycle.
A Single Life (Joris Oprins, Netherlands)
At a mere two minutes in length, A Single Life has a fraction of the time of the other nominees to make its point – luckily it’s a memorable one. The unnamed protagonist finds a record capable of reversing and fast-forwarding the flow of time, and just as she begins to discover the possibilities in store for her she takes it too far. Wickedly dark and with a retro nineties-looking 3D animation style, the film is a mere snapshot of an intriguing concept that could be taken to really interesting places should the makers decide to take the idea further.