I consider animation to be one of the most versatile, passionate, and expressive art forms. Animation can be light and bouncy, raw and gritty, or abstract and introspective in order to convey its story. And these short animated films are great examples of the kinds of stories that the medium can tell. Some might be better than others, but if you can find a theater to view them in, then absolutely take the chance to go out and see them. So without further ado, here are my thoughts on each Oscar nominated animated short ordered from my least favorite to most favorite.
Be sure to click on the title of each film to see their corresponding trailer.
5. Feast, Patrick Osborne
This short is, for better or for worse, a standard Disney story. A stray dog finds a new owner and soon becomes accustomed to the food he feeds him. We then get to see the ups and downs of the owner’s relationship with a waitress.
This is an otherwise standard “slice of life” story that outlines a moment in a person’s life. The twist here however, is that we get to see the relationship through the perspective of the dog. This works, as the dog has a pretty strong personality and ultimately saves the relationship. But other than that, this is still pretty standard Disney territory. But for what this film is, it still provides a cute story with good animation. However, Disney can and has told better short stories.
4. Me and My Moulton, Torill Kove
We all have experienced a bit of distance between ourselves and our families at one point in our lives. But for a seven-year-old sibling of triplets, this distance is even greater. For her parents seem to be completely different from the rest of the residents in her town, from the modern style of their house to the fact that they don’t have a bicycle.
The film takes on an autobiographical style despite being a fictionalized film. The seemingly innocent art style juxtaposes some very complicated themes, including divorce, envy, and coming-of-age identity. Yet the film still keeps a cheerful feeling throughout, with some genuinely funny and sweet moments.
3. A Single Life, Job, Joris & Marieke
This film takes the slice of life storytelling we see in Feast and turns it on its head. A woman obtains a record for a song titled A Single Life. But instead of just playing music, the record also allows a person to manipulate one’s life. She can to grow old and young depending on where she places the needle on the record.
The premise is very original despite being based on a fairly standard storytelling setup. As we see different points in the main character’s life, we get to have a glimpse into her personality and even grow to like her. This makes the hard hitting ending all the more impactful. While the animation is a bit too awkward and the art style unappealing, there is a lot more to this short than meets the eye.
2. The Bigger Picture, Daisy Jacobs
The family strife in Me and My Moulton returns stronger than ever with The Bigger Picture. Two brothers, one unreliable and the other an unwilling martyr, try to cope with the ever increasing age of their mother. What follows is a surreal look at family and death that is equal parts funny and dark.
The stop-motion animation consists of life-sized 2D paintings interacting with life-sized 3D objects in a life-sized 3D room. This leads to many clever uses of both the 2D characters and 3D world in the interactions between them. I highly recommend that you check out the behind the scenes video to witness the process in all of its complex and beautiful glory.
These interactions also lead to most of the symbolism within the film. The symbolism ranges from the subtle like the boy pouring tea and letting it overflow to show his pent up anger to the not-so-subtle like how the same boy grows taller and taller as he expresses his rage. The 2D characters are likened to that of a family portrait a child would draw. This provides a strong juxtaposition to the dark comedy and themes, making them stand out all the better. And setting the 2D characters in a life-sized room allows the themes to better be grounded in reality.
The Bigger Picture takes the traditional elements of stop-motion and combines them with innovative techniques to tell its story and themes in an original way. Combine that with its contrasting light and dark overtones and surreal imagery, and you have a very special and powerful film.
1. The Dam Keeper, Robert Kondo & Daisuke Tsutsumi
I previously wrote about this short when it was featured in the Kids Shorts: Size Medium program during last year’s Milwaukee Film Festival. It was my favorite short then, and it’s my favorite short now. In fact, it might just be one of the best pieces of animation I have ever seen.
The short tells the story of a pig who is tasked with winding up the windmill that keeps his town safe from a black fog. Despite his important task, he is still mercilessly bullied at school. But a new classmate might just change everything.
The animation is thoroughly breathtaking. The overall aesthetic takes on an appearance akin to an oil painting. Despite being animated digitally, it utilizes traditional animation techniques to make every character come to life. The artwork and animation allows the story to better convey its moods, from the overbearing darkness of the black fog to the cleansing light that beaches the town in the morning and evening.
The story, while simple and pretty standard for most children’s flicks, is told with an elegant air of sophistication while also conveying a playful and humble atmosphere. Because of this, as well and the unique animation and style, the somewhat standard setup distinguishes itself from films with similar themes.
Other than a short narration in the beginning and the end, the film is devoid of dialogue. Characters are instead expressed by the organic animation, allowing their subtle expressions and sound effects to make them highly relatable and believable. We genuinely care for these characters through their high and low points.
The music is beautifully composed. The orchestration’s small size allows the music to convey the elegant simplicity conveyed through the story. And the constant motifs reinforce the themes of the film at just the right moments. You can listen to the entire soundtrack for yourself on the official YouTube channel.
I could gush all day about this film. Simply put, this is a film that soars through the heavens to join other great works of animation like Spirited Away, Fantasia, Up, and Akira. The amount of skill and love poured into this film is felt throughout its entire runtime. It is a true testament to the art form of animation.