27 Days of Oscar: Day 19a The Animated Shorts

Yesterday was the official Oscar Celebrates presentation of the short films. Demand has grown for this type of event and needing a larger space to host the screening, this year AMPAS partnered with the School of Visual Arts. As one might expect, there are some details in the running of the day that need ironing out and I missed the intimacy using the Academy’s screening room at Lighthouse International. But all in all, it was a great day. I’ll give a brief overview of each of the films, but will save my thoughts on which way the voters may lean until my predictions.

Short Film (Animated)
The story of a wild boy with a wolf’s spirit who is found and brought to civilization. Trying to adapt to his new environment in the same way he did in the forest, though, proves challenging and stifles his soul. Told without dialogue and character styles that evoke thoughts of Edward Gorey, the film animates with simple shapes, but constantly flickering shadows give an unsettling sense of movement through stillness. It was probably my least favorite of the grouping, but I can see how others might appreciate it more.

Get a Horse!
This delightful film is more than just a celebration of the early Mickey Mouse shorts, it’s also an ode to various animation techniques including hand drawn, computer generated 3D and a slight nod to the zoetrope. Starting off in black and white, almost as if a long-lost film had been rediscovered, Mickey and his pals eventually find themselves outside of the screen and into a sort of metaphysical exploration of animation. There are several significant things about the short: it’s the first Disney animated film to be directed by a woman, Lauren MacMullan; using archival recordings, Mickey is once again voiced by Walt Disney; and fans of Mickey’s original gang will be delighted to see Horace, Clarabelle and Peg Leg Pete back in action, as well as a brief appearance by Disney’s first animated character: Oswald, the Lucky Rabbit.

Mr. Hublot
The title character’s tik-tok world is all about precision and compulsion; his robotic daily routines would fit easily within a steampunk version of Elmer Rice’s The Adding Machine. The detail of his environment and his OCD quirks would be enough for an entertaining short on their own, but director and writer Laurent Witz throws that world into chaos when Mr. Hublot takes in a stray. This voiceless film is perfectly structured and beautifully rendered, but it’s the mechanical man at the center of it that steals our hearts.

Ducking into an abandoned shrine to seek shelter from a storm, a Japanese man is confronted by a host discarded items: broken paper umbrellas, snakes of silk and piles of junk. But the traveler sees the value in each of them and repairs them to former glory. In the end, he is rewarded for his kindness. The visuals are quite beautiful, contrasting the earthy colors of the storm with the vibrant ones of the paper and silk. The story and characters may be odd, but its themes of restoration harken to a deeper meaning than just recycle and reuse, it is also an allegory for how we treat the castoffs and unloved.

Room on the Broom
Directed by Max Lang and based on the book illustrated by Axel Scheffler (a combination that was also paired together for 2011 nominee The Gruffalo), the tale of a witch and her ever-increasing-in-number animal companions is truly charming. It boasts quite a few names in its credits (among them, Gillian Anderson, Sally Hawkins and Timothy Spall), though there is little dialogue other than Simon Pegg’s narration. However, the cast’s grunts, woo-hoos and the occasional, “Yes!” further the enjoyment of the amusing expressions the animators bring to each of the characters, especially those of the orange tabby cat. Its story may be simple, but one can’t help but smile from start to finish.

Look for my overviews of the Live Action Shorts and the Documentary Short Subjects coming next.


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