It’s almost Academy Awards time, and I’ve been diligently seeing as many of the nominated films as possible, including the animated shorts. This year’s animated shorts are generally strong all-around, at least animation-wise; story-wise, the bag is a little more mixed. Here’s a brief overview of the Oscar®-nominated animated shorts, along with which one I think will take home the award for Best Animated Short:
“Borrowed Time” (USA, 7 minutes, directors Andrew Coats and Lou Hamou-Lhadj, Quorum Films): An older sheriff reflects on an incident from his past in this melancholy entry. This first film from Coats and Hamou-Lhadj, two old friends who both wound up working at Pixar, took five years to make because they did it in their spare time. The computer animation is richly realized, and the music by Gustavo Santaolalla beautifully underscores the themes of grief and resolve.
“Pearl” (USA, 6 minutes, director Patrick Osborne, Google Spotlight Stories/Evil Eye Pictures): Continuing the theme of reflecting on the past, “Pearl” is the first virtual reality short to be nominated. About a woman who recalls her childhood while sitting in an old, beat-up car, “Pearl” boasts a wider range of emotions than “Borrowed Time,” and has a sunnier look as well. The joyfulness of the lyrics, “There’s no wrong way home,” buoys the animation. I watched in both 2D and VR, and to be honest, the VR did nothing but interrupt the story’s flow. If you want, you can watch it in VR here: http://geekandsundry.com/watch-pearl-the-first-vr-animated-short-to-earn-an-oscar-nomination/
“Blind Vaysha” (Canada, 8 minutes, director Theodore Ushev, National Film Board of Canada): With a style that frequently looks like animated woodcuts (or posters, as Ushev created poster art previously), this entry from Canada tells the sad fable of Vaysha, a young girl born with one eye that only sees the past, while the other eye only sees the future. The narration works, for the most part, until the ending, which blunts the message by spelling it out explicitly. Up to that point, I was enjoying the boldness of the animation and the use of split screens to show Vaysha’s view of the world, one that never has a present. A serious short with a lot to say, though the lecture-like quality of the end disappointed.
“Pear Cider and Cigarettes” (Canada & UK, 35 minutes, director Robert Valley, Massive Swerve Studios and Passion Pictures Animation): The first film from Valley, who previously worked on Gorillaz videos and has his own graphic novel series, “Massive Swerve,” “Pear Cider and Cigarettes” is a hand-drawn entry wherein the narrator receives a letter from an old friend who recently passed away. The narrator then recounts his friendship with Techno Stypes, a larger-than-life character who impacted him in many ways. The graphic-novel-like animation is vivid and kinetic, much like Stypes himself is in the beginning. Unfortunately, it’s a tale oft-told, with no particular fresh take to make it stand out from other similar stories. I did enjoy the visuals and the music used to propel the story, though, and look forward to more animation from Valley.
“Piper” (USA, 6 minutes, director Alan Barillaro, Pixar Animation Studios): Pixar’s latest burst of adorableness debuted before Finding Dory (itself surprisingly not nominated in the animated feature category). The story, of a baby piper having to learn to feed itself at the shoreline, is beautifully animated, whimsically funny, and sweet without being cloying. The score by musician Adrian Belew (King Crimson, Frank Zappa, and Bowie, among others) is a perfect match for the lush visuals.
My pick: “Piper” wins in a landslide. While I wouldn’t be surprised if it was edged out by the equally well-animated “Borrowed Time,” “Piper” is the strongest of all five entries in marrying the various aspects of animation, story, and score into a lovely whole. That it left me with a very good feeling after each viewing is a happy bonus.
The Oscar Nominated Shorts open this Friday, February 10, 2017 in Los Angeles, Orange County, and nationwide. Visit http://shorts.tv/theoscarshorts/ for more on all the nominated short films.
Trailers for each film here: