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The 2014 Oscar-Nominated Short Films: Animated

Theatrical Review

Various; N/A

Director: Various

Written by on January 31, 2014 

Ahead of the Academy Awards, we’re reviewing each short category. See the animated section below, live-action here, and documentary here.

Feral – USA – 13 minutes

Writer/director Daniel Sousa‘s animated short Feral is a tragic tale of a young boy raised in the wild and his attempt to assimilate into human civilization. Drawn with a rough, charcoal texture that shimmers and swirls with each new frame of motion, its contrast of blacks and whites show us the child’s isolation from both worlds at either side. He’s a stark white against the greys of the forest birch trees and building block façade houses, a prize easily seen by the pitch black wolves and people curious as to letting him stand by them. Existence is camouflage, mimicry, and exposed teeth; peace and trust commodities he can ill-afford to risk.

There is a lyricism to the visuals as shapes and shades move into one another and back; our main creature floating and spinning into different forms as fear takes hold and society fails. Wordless besides some growls and an attempt at laughter, Feral is all about mood and tone to tug at our heartstrings in our want for the boy to be okay. Whether or not that’s a possibility in either world, however, remains to be seen and is ultimately up to the child. Too wild to know how to interact in the human sphere, you wonder if there is actually more danger here than in the forest. At least in the trees its all about intimidation—one doesn’t have to be subservient in order to be accepted.

Composer Dan Golden‘s score is a beautiful accompaniment to the imagery as this dark fairy tale of uncertainty plays out. Its crescendos swell as the boy’s aggression mounts and grows softer once calm or fright sets in. We’ve all felt that desire to hide when the unknown stares us in the face—to question kindness and understand anger as truth. He didn’t ask to be left in the wild nor did he know or hope for a rebirth in the city. He merely makes due with what’s presented until those animalistic tendencies for survival kick in. Where he goes is a mystery—he’s a boy without a home. Only nature knows his place as he searches to become one with her whether it means living in union or losing himself to merge into one.


Get A Horse! – USA – 6 minutes

I guess it might be time for me to revisit some of the old Mickey Mouse cartoons from yesteryear, but I’m not so sure I want to. Especially if Lauren MacMullan‘s animated homage created in part for the iconic character’s 85th anniversary Get a Horse! is truly on point as far as its subject matter goes. Don’t get me wrong, though, the short does build into a rip-roaring, slapstick escapade that uses its gimmick to full potential without wearing itself out. It’s just the first minute of blatant—and completely unnecessary—sexual innuendo that struck me as odd. Why is Clarabelle Cow’s utters falling out when she lifts her skirt “for a ride”? Yeah the six-year olds laughed, but I could only cringe.

It’s weird because I’m not a prude. In fact I almost feel disgusted with myself for caring so much about something so inconsequential that I’m letting it tint my enjoyment of what’s a rather silly adventure chock full of physical abuse and pratfalls otherwise. It even utilizes the archival voices of Billy Bletcher, Marcellite Garner and Walt Disney himself—this should be a Disney fan’s dream. Perhaps it’s the juxtaposition of a 1920s-esque aesthetic with the type of potty humor reserved for Will Ferrell at present that simply didn’t sit right in my head. It’s fun yet dirty and I can’t stop thinking how we shouldn’t be putting those two concepts together subconsciously in our children’s minds. Ugh, I really have turned into an eighty-year old curmudgeon. I don’t like it.

With that first minute aside, however, Get a Horse! does proves to be a spot-on technological representation of old meets new to honor the grand history it bridges. Mickey, Minnie, and Peg Leg Pete all get the “color” treatment as their cat and mouse chase of love and anger has them coming in and out of the silver screen to ruin their off-camera audience’s nachos in the crossfire. The level of detail is precise to ensure that the contemporary, three-dimensional renderings retain the look and feel of their hand-drawn counterparts while the use of 3D layering allows us to see each in color beneath the heavy lines once holes are ripped into the screen. Letting the canvas flip upside down and rotate side-to-side for rewinding/fast-forwarding only makes the joke more palpable.

MacMullan outdoes herself visually in a memorable feat that marks the auspicious occasion of her being the first female director to helm a Disney animated film on her own. The youngsters ate up all the abuse poor Pete endures at the hands of Mickey’s vindictive jealousy as well as the broad humor littered throughout, but I still wish she didn’t have to resort to such cheap genitalia jokes at the start. I applaud the effort, though, and hope to watch the second half’s mixed media hybridization more intently next time to catch just how carefully intertwined both worlds become in its chaotically fast-paced, “Benny Hill” chase. Hopefully I’ll be able to shut my brain off at the beginning to not mentally bog myself down again before getting there.


Mr. Hublot – USA – 11 minutes

For OCD-ridden Mr. Hublot, life is a steady series of mundane tasks to ensure everything is in working order around the house and exactly where his mind needs them to be. He wakes up, flicks his light switches off and on, adjusts the frames hanging on his wall, and rearranges his biscuit and salt shaker to the optimal positions before settling in for his cup of coffee. He notices when things are amiss yet has the ability to ignore them without a second glance so he may continue his own monotonous existence in the confines of his metallic igloo home at the center of a bustling city. But there’s something about the whimpering bark of a tiny robot dog alone on the street below that he simply cannot shake.

Co-directors Alexandre Espigares and Laurent Witz (who also wrote) have crafted a very cute tale of companionship and the power of the heart conquering the mind through their titular character’s surprising ache for the little toaster outside his window. Set in a cartoony steampunk world that reminded me of a friendlier, G-rated sibling to Shane Acker‘s 9, Mr. Hublot is someone children and adults can relate to alike. He is mild-mannered, quiet, and set in his ways until that yearning to no longer be alone sparks an intrinsic feeling within for more. We see him struggle with the status quo, needing to flick that light switch one more time despite knowing the poor puppy is about to be shredded by the garbage truck—psychologically trapped yet reaching out to embrace his latent empathy.

Like pet owner, the initial satisfaction of bringing it home to love and care for quickly turns to frustration as its size makes it more obtrusive to the solitary life once lived. Hublot is no exception as his new friend grows exponentially and disrupts every mental tick he has by making a manageable insanity into a powder keg of craziness that cannot be quelled when one move by the dog crashes ten things to the ground. There’s potential for the story to turn dark once Hublot tweaks out and grabs an electric screwdriver, but you hope for love to prevail. And all the while broad visual jokes rule the day inside this idiosyncratic world of moving gears where a pitiable stray can transform our hermit into a man with purpose above the systematic neuroses propelling him forward each day.


Possessions – USA – 14 minutes

The title of Shuhei Morita‘s Oscar nominated short Tsukumo [Possessions] on first blush conjures thoughts of two separate meanings. One is the idea of spirits possessing objects or people to do their bidding and the second is a grouping of things someone owns. If not for an opening textual prologue, it would be easy to believe what goes on strictly concerns the former when in fact there is more to it. Because as the screen explains, Japanese lore says tools and instruments attain souls to trick people after 100 years. So everything our stranger experiences while hiding from the storm in a rundown shrine isn’t the work of demons, but actually the discarded items locked away in obscurity yearning to be appreciated once more.

A segment from Katsuhiro Otomo‘s omnibus anthology entitled Short Peace, Possessions is a sort of eulogy for all the inanimate objects we use and abuse until discarding them without a second thought. It’s actually a somewhat nightmarish companion to the Toy Story saga as it parallels those characters’ desperation in the face of being abandoned. It’s only fitting then that our rugged hero is described as a Mr. Fix-It—someone who sees broken not as garbage but as something to be repaired and restored to its former glory. So rather than cower in fear as torn-to-shreds umbrellas surround him in song or suffocate under the drab and worn silks swirling in on him, he pops open his toolbox and goes to work.

It’s an intriguing message that I’m sure few people in American society would ever deem relevant in their overly consumer-based society championing new technology before its previous generation has run its course, so it may prove a bit on the nose and/or trite to some. But if you embrace its impossible world and remember some object from your past that served you well and sadly got left behind, there is a lot to enjoy. And even if you can’t, Morita’s animation is gorgeous to behold with sumptuous matte paintings and a rich palette to his main character that allows him to seamlessly and realistically move within the static environments. Labeled CGI yet appearing hand-drawn courtesy of NewTek’s LightWave 3D software, I’m glad to see the anime style retained rather than usurped for Pixar-quality aesthetics.


Room On The Broom – USA – 25 minutes

Just like with The Gruffalo back in 2011, Max Lang has found his second adaption (this time co-directed by Jan Lachauer) of UK children’s author Julia Donaldson‘s work garnering an Oscar nomination as well. It’s 2002’s book Room on the Broom, a cute tale about making new friends and selflessly banding together to save each other from the clutches of a fat, evil dragon. Axel Scheffler‘s cartoony illustrations have been given dimension with computer animation rendered to look like Claymation while Simon Pegg lends his voice to narrate the rhyming plot of a cheery Witch (Gillian Anderson) and stubborn Cat’s (Rob Brydon) adventure soaring high to delight young audiences the world around.

A perfect little parable shown in Britain on BBC One before making its way to PBS’ Sprout network in the States, there is an infectious goofiness throughout to capture children’s attentions while also tickling the adults watching alongside them. Whether it’s the idiosyncrasies of its characters—Dog’s (Martin Clunes) perpetual joy, Bird’s (Sally Hawkins) tragic solitude, and Frog’s (David Walliams) meticulous hygiene—or the sweetness of the Witch’s desire to help each lost soul she encounters on her seemingly destination-less journey, you’ll have a smile from start to finish. The Dragon (Timothy Spall) on their tail helps with his hilarious body type adding visual laughs while Cat’s refusal to warm to his new broom guests adds an annoyed contrast to their charmingly simplistic natures.

Each character is met courtesy of the scatterbrained Witch constantly dropping things from up high—hat, hair bow, and wand—proving her Cat to be the reasoning anchor of the pair. But despite his calculating mind knowing the capacity of their broom and the problems so many passengers will bring, her constant ability to lead with her heart is the core of what Donaldson and Lang hope to share. The animation’s fun frivolity entertains while these critters gradually learn to work together as the family they’ve become thanks to their maternal ringleader’s compassion. Born out of an intentionally juvenile story that’s earned numerous awards and twenty-one translations, the added star power will only increase its reach to expand its international audience even further.


The Oscar Nominated Shorts are now showing in limited theatrical release. See the official site for more details.

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