2017 Oscar-nominated Shorts: ANIMATED
What I typically look forward to the most from this category is diversity. Not just in finding storytelling that represents a variety of gender, race or socio/ecomonic status, but mostly in terms of approach and use to animation. Animation can be implemented and presented in many ways and this is usually the category where we see that, which can lead to animation that is more unique and set apart from what we’re typically used to seeing from studios. While they are often hard to find, unless they precede a Disney blockbuster, they are always interesting to check out for their variety and for – as always with shorts – how they make the most of their time.
This year, there are two animated shorts that were created from the house of Pixar, although only one uses that recognizable name. Released by Quorum Films, “Borrowed Time” was created on the side by two longtime friends who had started out at Blue Sky Studios (“Horton Hears a Who” and “Rio”) and reunited to work on several features (from “Cars 2” to “The Good Dinosaur”) for Disney/Pixar. “Piper” is an official release from Pixar which and is probably the most widely seen short this year or nominee period, since it preceded “Finding Dory” this past summer.
The other three contenders in this category showcase a wider range of animation styles, most of them work while one distracts. Nevertheless, each nominee impresses on some level, but the test is to determine just how they resonate with viewers and, in this case, voters.
Usually this category will include shorts from an assortment of countries, but this year they’re are from North American. That’s a little disappointing. Regardless, what we have here are nominees who include memorable images and powerful emotions in confidently executed animation.
These shorts can be currently found in theaters as well as Vimeo On Demand and iTunes. Below is a rundown of my thoughts on these nominees….
BORROWED TIME – USA (7 min.)
This sad Western tale is directed by Pixar animators Andrew Coats and Lou Hamou-Lhadj, who’ve been friends since college and have been working on this short for years while working on animated features for Disney/Pixar. “Borrowed Time” is an almost wordless short that focuses on a nameless aging sheriff who revisits the cliffside location from his past that traumatized him since childhood. With each step to the edge, we get more details from a pivotal moment in this character’s life as powerful memories surface allowing us to visualize what he witnessed as a young boy. The two directors make economic use of their time, delivering a concise, yet emotional story, but it is surprisingly a bit too much of a downer, leaving viewers to wallow in despair along with the sheriff.
PEARL – USA (6 minutes)
Patrick Osborne has worked on such Disney animated features as “Bolt”, “Tangled” and “Wreck-It Ralph” and has already won an Oscar for the adorable animated short “Feast”, which preceded “Big Hero 6” in 2014. “Pearl” is definitely a more personal work for the animator, who focuses on a tender father/daughter story that takes place over the course of several years and revolves around a family car. Osborne relies on sequential visuals and music (with very little dialogue), introducing viewers to a single singer/songwriter father who drives around with his young daughter, creating a catchy song (“No Way Home” by Alexis Harte and JJ Wiesler) as he busks from town to town. The 2D animated short uses a infectious 360-degree VR approach that pulls us into the movement of the vehicle and the music as we see the musically-inclined daughter grow into her moody and independent teen years as we see her the relationship between the two grow distant. It’s a sweet and touching tale that covers the bond and impact of a father/daughter relationship and by the time the short ends there may be some waterworks.
PEAR CIDAR AND CIGARETTES – Canada and UK (35 minutes)
I have a lot of respect for my least favorite animated short. “Pear Cider and Cigarettes” is the longest nominee, but it has no reason to be. It has a really cool, graphic novel feel to it with a strikingly fluid pace, but its story is a bit too repetitive and uninteresting. Veteran animator/designer, Robert Valley (best known for his work on “Aeon Flux” and “Tron: Uprising”) offers a first-person narration to this story about an accident-prone, self-destructive dude named Techno, a boozing party animal who lands a load of money after getting into some serious accidents, yet eventually winds up with one less toe and a need for a liver transplant due to his alcoholism. Although its execution is appealing, it’s grim needlessly R-rated story winds up becoming less and less interesting as it unfolds. There’s a weight to the short that feels imposed rather than earned. We never really emotionally connect with either the enigmatic narrator or his doomed friend.
BLIND VAYSHA – Canada (8 minutes)
Of all the animated shorts this Canadian entry is the most unique in both its story and its choice of 2D animation style that resembles linocut prints. Director Theodore Usher’s short is the most abstract, painterly nominee and its brilliant style matches its fascinating story superbly. Based on a story by Bulgarian writer Georgi Gospodinov, the metaphoric fable tells of a girl who’s born with the ability to see the past out of her left eye and the future out of her right – which sounds bittersweet and unsettling. Through her POV we see bold split-frame juxtapositions – like when she focuses on a male suitor we sees him as a child and a crippled old man. It’s a most interesting story that presses viewers to live in the moment (forget lamenting the past or worrying over the future) and not take for granted what you have around you in your present. While it’s unlikely to win the gold, “Blind Vaysha” is certainly the most richly expressionistic nominee and is akin to poetry in motion. I’ve watched “Blind Vaysha” twice and each time was rewarded with more to admire and ponder.
PIPER – USA (6 minutes)
The short that’ll win the gold is Pixar’s “Piper”, which premiered last summer in front of “Finding Dory”, and I can’t really argue with that. Set on a sandy shoreline, the tale follows a wide-eyed sandpiper who must overcome its fear of water and the rush of the tide in order to get the nourishment it needs. While this is an adorable tale as well as an exciting survival story, the big draw is the incredibly life-like approach that is taken here, where each frame looks like a photograph. This wordless short was endearing and enjoyable the first I saw it last summer and continues to delight upon subsequent viewings.