It’s always nice to see a category so ripe with possibilities to represent such a wide array of artistry. Unlike the Animated Feature category (which, this year, is entirely comprised of computer animated films), the Animated Shorts of 2014 has a wide selection of animation styles up for the consideration of its voter this year. Here they are for your consideration.
Get a Horse!
Of all the movies in this category, Lauren MacMullen’s Get a Horse! is probably the most recognizable as it preceded fellow Disney film Frozen in the theaters. The film begins as an old-fashioned cartoon, with Mickey and Minnie enjoying a wagon ride with their friends Horsecollar Horace and Clarabelle Cow, when nemesis Peg-Leg Pete kidnaps Minnie and knocks Mickey into the next world, literally. Mickey bursts through the movie screen and falls out into the 3D-color world. The rest of the film is a series of clever little gags that follow the old Mickey cartoon humor, mixed in with twenty-first century amusements like, for example, Horsecollar Horace with a cell phone and a Captain America t-shirt. The riffs are a pleasant take on the old school versus new school themes that were so prominent in the films at last year’s Oscars. Like lots of movies that come and go through this specific category, the film isn’t as much a film as it is some momentarily enjoyed confection. Not that kiddy predilections are any less admirable the more serious fare presented for consideration (sometimes they are more admirable, see: any animated short ever by Pixar – Gerry’s Game is a favorite), but this little Disney treat falls short of the stuff that makes some of its fellow nominees so incredible.
Mr. Hublot, the little film from directors Laurent Witz and Alexandre Espigares, is one of three more forward thinking movies in the Animated Short category this year. The movie’s eponymous hero is a shut-in with OCD, living contently in his tiny apartment, spending his days tending is flower box, doing his work, and straightening his furniture. One dreary day, though, his sympathy gets the better of his agoraphobia and he rescues a stray dog from certain death. The rest of film follows the curious question of what will get the better of Hublot in this interesting situation – will he accept the chaos of this constantly growing creature in his life or will his tendencies get the better of him? The film isn’t necessarily engineered for the animation treatment – it could just as easily have made a charming live-action film – but Witz and Espigares turn Hublot’s world into a steampunk wonderland that gives the story an added dimension of allure. Everything from the dog to the flowers is made of metal-mechanical curiosities, and even Hublot himself has little number dials that spin furiously on his forehead when he thinks and worries. It is charming to be sure, but probably not charming enough to be remembered by voters – but it is worth its nomination, and a viewing by anyone who has the means to do so.
Writer/director Daniel Sousa’s Feral feels as though it belongs in the 2007 short-film collection Fear(s) of the Dark, a series a black-and-white animations from various artistic talents about what constitutes fear. Feral, completely without dialogue like most of its fellow nominees, is the story of a wild boy who is found by a hunter in the woods who forces the boy into civilization – living in the city, wearing clothes, and going to school. The hunter’s plan backfires though as being in the company of easily amused and quick-to-ridicule children proves to be just as hostile as living life trailing a pack of ferocious wolves. The stark animation, seemingly drawn of charcoal, is completely in keeping with the themes of danger and mystery. Minimalism like this - especially when surrounded by great examples of stop-motion, 2-D, 3-D, and exquisite Japanese animation – should be admired above all. Not enough filmmakers take pause and step back to let a story shine without being encumbered by flashy and overt and expensive additives. The combination of bleak and beautiful in Feral is powerful, and quite possibly powerful enough to send Sousa home with a golden statue in his hand.
Room on the Broom
Room on the Broom isn’t the first short-from movie adaptation that writer/director Max Lang has made from a Julia Donaldson children’s book; Lang was also responsible for the wonderful 2011 Oscar nominated The Gruffalo. With Broom, Lang follows the same style he used with Gruffalo, the stop-motion animation styled to emulated the illustrations of the source material. Broom is the story of a kindly witch and her grumpy cat who meet an interesting assortment of wildlife who all want to ride on the broom whilst unknowingly being chased by a hungry dragon. The story is adorable and pleasant, the kind of fanciful cinematic enjoyment one might show children to subliminally teach them of acceptance. The celebrity voices are the real high point of the film, with Timothy Spall as the hungry dragon and Simon Pegg’s warm and fatherly narration. That being said, the film gets bogged down in its own smarminess and loses the buoyancy needed to keep all ages interested very early on. It’s a nice movie, but as unimpressive as it is one the whole its befuddling how other potential nominees – like Pixar’s beautiful anthropomorphic love story The Blue Umbrella or the droll existential curio The Missing Scarf – where passed over to make way for it.
Shuhei Morita’s short film Possessions requires a bit of back story: at the beginning of the film it is made known that in the Japanese culture it is believed that after an object is around for a hundred years it becomes a sort of ghostly spirit, a soul that delights in toying with the minds of the living. As the film opens viewers watch a traveling repair man stumbling through the forest when it starts raining, so he goes to a run-down shack for shelter. Inside he finds masses of old junk that come to life and taunt him like dancing umbrellas and talking paintings. Morita’s movie is magnificent in its motive and tone, something full of life and energy but not resigned to puerile silliness, an adult movie that children can marvel at too instead of the other way around. The animation, with roots that clearly follow in the traditional Japanese animation style (Possessions looks like a second-cousin to the Miyazaki masterpiece Howl’s Moving Castle) it has dimensionality to it, almost as if were an interlude to some state-of-the-art videogame which, though detracting from a softness that could have been useful to the look and tone of the story, is something refreshing and present tense. Possessions is brilliant – if I were an AMPAS member, this is the movie I would vote for.