Very few (if any) people who watch the Oscars give a lot of thought on the short films categories – in fact, the powers at be thought this to be so true that at the big ceremony a few years back, the awards were accepted for these categories in the aisles of the Kodak Theater with a little microphone stand. AMPAS decided not to try the horrible idea in future ceremonies because of how many jokes and remarks it received for being stupid and uncouth. Just because a film isn’t feature length doesn’t mean it isn’t worthy of attention. Admittedly these little movies can be rather morose, but in the animated category viewers are apt to find heartwarming and delightful tales as well as deeper and more serious material.
The Bigger Picture
As far as the art of animation is concerned, The Bigger Picture is by far the most experimental in its category. A mixture of two-dimensional oil paintings and three-dimensional stop motion elements, the short film written and directed by Daisy Jacobs tells the story of an aging woman and her two sons – one is loyal and unappreciated, the other is the selfish favorite. As the mother’s health declines, the brothers struggle with the decision of placing her in a nursing home to spend her dying days in the best of care. A lot of people will love how unique and strange the film is, but most of the time there is so much going on so quickly, both visually and narratively, that lots of things get lost in the telling which could likewise help it lose voters’ favor.
A Single Life
Joris Oprins’ little, little movie (running time under three minutes) is nominated this year for no other reason than it is definitely the most inventive story-wise amongst all of the nominees. Sans dialogue, A Single Life is the tale of a woman who receives a record in the mail and discovers that when she plays it, it lets her move through time in her own life – but once the record starts to skip farther and farther ahead in her timeline, the inevitability of old age and what follows because hilariously clear. The plot is a great little joke and the animation style is a very cute mix of “Veggie Tales” and Toy Story. Though its very unlikely it will win, AMPAS voters clearly found it likeable and witty enough to give it favor over the much more elegant and eloquent Glen Keane short Duet.
Me and My Moulton
As far as animation is concerned, there is nothing spectacular or engaging about Torill Kove’s Me and My Moulton. Told in a series of images akin to children’s picture books, the short is the story of a girl and her two sisters and their strange parents. It is the simple yet strong story that draws you in here, a child’s understanding of the mechanics of love and family and acceptance filtered through the adult perspective. It would be easy to write Me and My Moulton off as blasé, but Kove’s movie is sweet and memorable and, if you take the time to really watch it, very worthy of its nomination.
If there is any film on this list that audiences are likely to be familiar with, it is undoubtedly Feast, the adorable little story of a hungry dog that preceded the ironically far less engaging full-length animated movie Big Hero 6. Written and directed by Disney animator Patrick Osborne, the short is the story of Winston and his journey through life with his loving owner marked by the food he eats. The movie isn’t exactly subtle, but it’s the kind of wonderfully clever, fun-for-kids-and-grownups kind of movie that you can’t help but absolutely love. Unless you like cheering on the long shots, your best bet lies with this adorable little dog.
The Dam Keeper
The longest film of the five nominees, The Dam Keeper tells what appears to be an Animal Farm-meets-Mad Max sort of story. A young pig lives alone, keeping the giant windmill that keeps a massive cloud of looming ash from swallowing his town in working order. But despite the great service he provides, he is bullied relentlessly at school. A new student makes friends with him, but things fall apart fast and eventually the inevitable happens. There is no dialogue in this movie – unless you count intermittent animal sounds as spoken words – but the emotional message is still a strong one. The story is on the darker side for a usually upbeat category, but there is something really endearing and sweet about The Dam Keeper, if not for its minimalist, slightly impressionistic style than for the simple morals about friendship and forgiveness. There’s little chance it will win, but it still certainly deserves to be nominated.