So this is a weirder thing to talk about, because short films are hard to ‘review’ if you can even call what I do anymore reviewing in a formal sense. Instead I just want to talk about each piece briefly, and let that be that. If this isn’t playing in your area (and it probably isn’t, let’s be real, these things get really shafted) most of these will be online after the Oscars at some point? And then you should totally seek them out and watch them. I’ll link to the trailers that are online right now in this, to help. Anyway, there are five nominees and then some also-rans that I’ll get to.
Get A Horse!
This is the Disney short in front of Frozen and thus it’s probably the one everyone has seen. That usually means that its the one that wins, which I grumble about nearly every year but this year I think is totally deserving. This absolutely captures the sense of fun of old Mickey Mouse shorts but integrates the opportunities of new technology and remix culture into something very modern feeling. The only bummer is that it absolutely is best in 3D, and that’s not how most people are going to see it at this point.
This is one of those very artistically striking shorts that manages to evoke a lot of feeling despite not actually being that great. It’s fine, and a solid visual tone piece, but by and large its messaging is really simplistic and all the things it evokes about conformity and freedom are really trite and hollow. Sorry, Feral.
The quirkiest French thing, Mr Hublot is the only other one of these I could see winning and be okay with after Get A Horse! The story of an obsessive compulsive robot man in a robot city, Mr Hublot is an incredibly sweet story about companionship, loneliness, and accommodating the strangeness of those we interact with in life. This one is the real charmer, a piece that manages to be touching but only skirting the edge cloying.
A lush ghost story in the age of samurai in Japan, Possessions is a gorgeous, kind of silly Shinto tale of a wandering man and a hut filled with the spirits of discarded objects. I really like a lot of things about this one, but found the animation of the man himself really distracting. The rest of the world is very intricately painted, but he’s a big lumbering cel-shaded model that looks only slightly better than what would fall out of a PS3 Dragonball Z game, and the jarring incongruity was offputting in the extreme. It’s a technical gripe, but animation is a technical art, so there.
Room on the Broom
I’ve only watched these short compilations thrice now, but each time there’s been these half hour claymation British storybook shorts, obviously made for TV and often with a surprisingly deep list of B-list actors making up the voice cast. This one is better than the last two, but all of them are very quaint in a low key way. This is animation meant to lull and comfort, and it’s very good at that. I don’t mean that as a slight, because I really do miss this kind of animation. I feel like it used to exist a lot on American TV, but either its disappeared or I stopped knowing where to find it, and that’s unfortunate. Not everything needs to be hyperactive to entertain.
And then there were the also-rans, which honestly I liked a lot better because they dare more and are often weirder and more offputting than the actual nominees. Which is a shame, but reflective of the Oscars in general. Either way, here they are.
A la Francaise
The most funny of the shorts by a mile, this farce depicts the court of Louis XIV as a menagerie of birds in the formal dress of the time, all clucking and strutting as they dance and eat and drink and duel and do whatever it is people do. It is a very simple premise of ‘look at the animals acting like humans’ but its incredibly effective both because birds are inherently weird amusing creatures, but also because in that level of abstraction is a lampooning of historical pomp and circumstance that feels very knowing in turning up its nose at self-importance.
The Missing Scarf
A strange cartoon that acts like part storybook and part education film, complete with 50s-esque narration from George Takei, The Missing Scarf is my favorite of the shorts shown this year. It’s a very silly trifle that unfolds in a very novel way into something much broader and more interesting. It’s a wicked thing, with a sense of humor that is as interested in discomfort as it is joy, and the things its about that I love it for are the things I wouldn’t dare give away. This is the one that I really wish was online to show to people I know.
The Blue Umbrella
The Pixar short that (I assume) was in front of Monsters University. This is a cute but dull boy meets girl story that is obviously a tech demo for some absolutely incredible photo-realistic CG that they’re working on. If they intend to make a movie with that stuff it would be jaw dropping, because I thought for a while at first that this short was actually stop motion using real objects. As a tech demo its impressive. As a narrative piece it is about as deep as the puddles its riddled with.