Approximately one year ago, I wrote about my favorite Oscar-nominated animated short films of 2015. I still stand by what I said that year ago: animation is one of the most versatile, passionate and expressive art forms and is just as valid a medium for telling captivating stories as any other. And once again, we have five examples of what animation can do. While some are better than the others, they’re all special in their own way. So without further ado, here are my top 10 Oscar-nominated animated shorts of 2016. Click on each title for a link to the official Oscar webpage and the trailer.
- Prologue – Richard Williams and Imogen Sutton
“2,400 years ago, four warriors — two Spartan and two Athenian — battle to the death in an intense struggle witnessed by a little girl, who then runs to her grandmother for comfort.”
See the blurb above? That’s literally all that happens in the film.
It was wonderful to see Richard Williams, the legendary animator behind such works as “Who Framed Rodger Rabbit,” return to animated film. And if “Prologue” was completely hand-drawn like it suggests in the beginning, then it’s impressive as hell. It’s active, flowing, sturdy and all of the principles Williams has championed since the very beginning.
Unfortunately, that’s where my praises end. While we do get an effective contrast between the beauty of nature and the ugliness of war, that’s all there is to this film. It’s a complete story, but we don’t get a complete experience. There’s so much you can do with the film as a concept. We could see the little girl grow up and her actions can reflect her harrowing experiences. We could go more into the culture of the characters. There’s so much you can do, but it’s only a few minutes long.
I would love to see it become a feature-length film, as there’s potential for a classic. But for now, it feels more like an elevator pitch than an animated short film.
- World of Tomorrow – Don Hertzfeldt
“A little girl named Emily is taken on a fantastical tour of her distant future by a surprising visitor who reveals unnerving secrets about humanity’s fate.”
While “World of Tomorrow” does have some interesting themes, such as the meaning of life and our ever-growing reliance on technology, it’s nothing Hertzfeldt hasn’t already touched upon in his other works. Heck, one of his films is literally called “The Meaning of Life.” Creatively, it feels like he’s just treading water.
The film was animated digitally and while the imagery looks a lot crisper than Hertzfeldt’s earlier works, it doesn’t have the same kind or rawness or magic. The fact that he achieved the lighting and animation in “The Meaning of Life” without the use of a computer makes it all the more compelling.
While “World of Tomorrow” has all of the same dry and dark humor along with the abstract animation and philosophical themes that you’ve come to expect from Hertzfeldt, you’ve seen this all before from him.
- Bear Story – Gabriel Osorio and Pato Escala
“Every day, a melancholy old bear takes a mechanical diorama that he has created out to his street corner. For a coin, passersby can look into the peephole of his invention, which tells the story of a circus bear who longs to escape and return to the family from which he was taken.”
“Bear Story” presents an endearing little story. But when you realize the connection between the bear and the story he tells through his diorama, then it suddenly turns bittersweet. While you may expect something grander from this story, the twist provides just enough of a punch to make the short memorable.
The animation can be a bit slow and stiff, but it makes sense when it switches to the story told by the invention as it takes on the appearance of a mechanical diorama. It still looks a bit off-putting in the film’s “real world”, however.
If you’re looking for a simple, charming yet somewhat tragic story, you’ll find it here in “Bear Story.” But if you were looking forward to something epic after seeing the dozens and dozens of awards featured at the beginning of the short, then you’ll be disappointed.
- Sanjay’s Super Team – Sanjay Patel and Nicole Grindle
“Young Sanjay, a first-generation Indian-American, is obsessed with television, cartoons and his superhero action figures. He is reluctant to spend time in daily prayers with his devout Hindu father, but a flight of imagination helps him develop a new perspective that he and his father can both embrace.”
“Sanjay’s Super Team” will likely win this year’s Oscar. Not just because it was – well – made by Disney and Pixar, but because it was actually really good.
Unlike last year’s “Feast,” which was just gratuitous shots of a dog eating food, “Sanjay’s Super Team” has a lot more going for it. It’s simple, silly and predictable, but if you peel back the surface and see what’s inside, you’ll find a lot of compelling themes. It examines the divide between generations, globalization overshadowing old cultures, children’s overreliance on media, and the balance and compromises people and cultures have to make in order to coexist. One may wish for a deeper examination of these themes, but it’s just right for an animated short film as it doesn’t bog down the action or story. And of course, it’s animated with all of the energy and skill you’ve come to expect from Disney and Pixar.
For a short animated film aimed at children whose first exposure to Indian culture may come from said film, it’s very impressive. Another great short film from Disney and Pixar.
- We Can’t Live Without Cosmos – Konstantin Bronzit
“Two best friends have dreamed since childhood of becoming cosmonauts, and together they endure the rigors of training and public scrutiny, and make the sacrifices necessary to achieve their shared goal.”
I saw and reviewed “We Can’t Live Without Cosmos” during the “Shorts: Let’s Get Animated” program of the 2015 Milwaukee Film Festival, and I love it now just as much as ever.
The crisp animation makes every joke and plot point crystal clear, being subtle and profound in equal measure. The characters don’t speak a word of dialogue and yet we’re completely aware of their personalities and invested in their plight. The visual language of the film carries the audience from the buddy comedy to the tragedy that slowly builds up throughout the film.
“We Can’t Live Without Cosmos” is fun, funny, dramatic and as elegant and graceful as the cosmos themselves.