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Oscar Nominated Shorts: Animation - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Oscar Nominated Shorts: Animation
Feral: B+
Get a Horse!: B-
Mr. Hublot: B
Possessions: B-
Room on the Broom: B

["Highly Commended"]
The Blue Umbrella: B+
À La Française: B
The Missing Scarf: B+

One begins to wonder if the Oscar Nominated Shorts are working themselves into obsolescence. It's a wonderful thing that ShortsHD, "the short movie channel," exists to offer regular viewers a chance to see short films they would never otherwise see outside of film festivals, and particularly that they present the Oscar-nominated shorts in theatrical release every year. The downside is that so rarely are any of them particularly good.

Rarely are any of them particularly bad either, mind you, but there is a pervasive blandness threading through most, and one wonders at the vast difference between short films apparently considered "Oscar-worthy" and feature films widely considered to be of that caliber. Perhaps it has much to do with shorts often being made by young lalents.

feral Feral (USA, 13 minutes) is a black and white, pencil-drawn and shaded, relatively haunting story of a young boy found living wild in the woods. It is mesmerizing to look at, and thematically hints at depths that are not readily apparent. As with many of these shorts, there is no straightforward dialogue; only the occasional grunt. This boy is found and taken in by a grown man, who takes the boy to school, where of course his lack of socialization causes problems. It's presented much as one night remember a dream, which includes the missing pieces that prevent it from being entirely understood. Yet it commands attention, both in animation style and in presentation.

get a horse Get a Horse! (USA, 6 minutes) is the kind of animated short tailor designed to delight nostalgic audiences, with its matching of old-timey black and white Mickey and Minnie mouse (and other assorted characters) on a small screen that turns into a theatre screen, and the far more modern, color CG rendering of the theatre in front of that screen. The characters, in all their cartoony-silly (and occasionally, surprisingly suggestive) antics, break that cartoon "fourth wall" and literally pop out of that black and white screen and into the theatre -- and back again, several times. It's all very high jinx gimmicky -- complete with manipulations of the voice of Walt Disney himself for Mickey -- and is moderately entertaining, but it does not betray a great deal of originality or substance. This perhaps plays better to an audience filled with the same love of Disney animation history as the makers of the film clearly had.

mr. hublot Mr. Hublot (Luxembourg/France, 11 minutes) is the kind of animated short we have come to expect among the Oscar nominees, with its highly polished visuals in a detailed world related to but completely separate from our own. In this case, we get a sort of steampunk vision of characters who all appear to be humanoid machines living human-like lives inside great cities of larger machines. Much of the world design is reminiscent of the 1985 film Brazil. Once again using no dialogue, our main character -- with a mystifying numerical counter embedded in his forehead -- befriends a little machine-dog that nearly gets trashed on the street outside his apartment building. He keeps feeding the dog a sort of oil-dog food, to the point that the dog grows far too large. The story and animation both have their charms, but are ultimately not all that distinguishable from many other animated shorts of the same ilk.

possessions Possessions (Japan, 14 minutes) is the sort of animation short that largely flies over my head -- as tends to be the case with anime-style animation. It begins by stating that tools and objects that have aged past 100 years gain souls and then trick people. We then see a ridiculously buff man getting lost in a storm in the jungle, happening upon an apparently abandoned hut, and once inside, proceeding to get tricked in myriad ways by the objects inside. I got the strong sense that it likely made sense to someone, particularly the Japanese. But in spite of its admittedly more than competent animation, I just didn't get it.

room on the broom Room on the Broom (UK, 25 minutes) is the latest in an increasingly long line of Magic Light Pictures adaptations of children's books, many of them in past presentations of Oscar Nominated Shorts, including both The Gruffalo (2009) and The Gruffalo's Child (2011). The animation style here is identical, and also like the other shorts, they managed to get some rather big name voice talents: narration by Simon Pegg; Gillian Anderson as the kindly witch (consisting, again, far more of grunts and chuckles than actual complete sentences); Timothy Spall as the Dragon; and Sally Hawkins as the Bird. There are also a Cat (Rob Brydon), a Dog (Martin Clunes) and a Frog (David Walliams), all characters that over time hitch a ride on the Witch's broom (hence the title), causing her increasing amounts of trouble. The story is pleasant enough, albeit likely to mesmerize small children in half-hour increments more than anyone else.

the blue umbrella With The Blue Umbrella (USA, 7 minutes), we move into the "Highly Commended" portion of the presentation, as well as the curious discovery that more than one of these films are mystifyingly superior to most of those that actuall got nominated. How did that happen, anyway? Admittedly Pixar, the production company for this short about two umbrellas that find love in the crowds of a rainy big city, has more than its fair share of Oscar nominations. But there's no sense in being penalized for proliferation. This short, with its anthropomorphization of all manner of realistically rendered city objects, is irresistible in a way none of the other shorts are.

À La Française À La Française (France, 7 minutes) is the one in this set that fits right into the "Highly Commended" category without quite catching a nomination -- it offers a portrait of 19th Century French Aristocracy, entirely with chickens as the characters. There's no dialogue and the plentiful humor is all visual, a cute but not particularly impactful pseudo-satire.

the missing scarf The Missing Scarf (Ireland, 7 minutes), on the other hand, would get my vote for the Oscar were it actually nominated, which, criminally, it was not. Narrated in the wonderfully distinctive voice of George Takei, it follows a squirrel in search of its lost scarf in the woods. He comes across several animals in turn, each of which relay its own problems, one of them taking its worries on an abrupt turn to delightfully disturbing ruminations on the fragility of the cosmos. And then it ends perfectly. What's the deal with the voting members of the Academy, anyway?

Incidentally, each short is broken up by a CGI pair of animals, an ostrich and a giraffe, who reveal themselves to be working on set as stand-ins. All we ever see is their heads on top of long necks, in front of a red curtain, as they banter with each other and gossip about other animated characters they've worked with over the years. It's a nice transitional tactic, and is about as generally amusing as the best of the nominated shorts themselves.

Overall: B
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