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2018 Oscar-Nominated Shorts: Animation

February 7, 2018

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Each year, I find myself wishing more people could view these Oscar-nominated shorts before they hear them listed off when all the other Oscar nominees are announced. Some of them have been seen in film festivals over the past year, one may have already been seen on the small screen in some areas, while another preceded an animated feature in theaters. The Shorts categories are typically glossed over when the Oscars nominees are announced, since few have heard of or seen them. That’s too bad, considering the winners in the Shorts categories typically deliver some of the more interesting and/or passionate acceptance speeches. Anyway, having viewed all five of the Animated Shorts nominated, I can tell you I was surprised and disappointed that there is one clear winner here.

This year, the Animated Shorts are dominated by nominees from USA and France. I know it’s not the Olympics, but it’d be nice to get some variety here. There are few commonalities among the five, but two of them are adaptations of poems and one nominee is an adaptation of a series of rhymes from a famous writer. All of them are well-crafted, but again, it’s odd that there’s only one true standout since I’m usually wrestling between two or three to determine which one should win.

Still, it’s great getting to views these shorts before their brief theatrical release, but it shouldn’t take 20 to 60 minutes to watch a 5 minute short. I don’t know if that’s my internet speed or the viewing platform – but hey, enough of my First World Problems.

All of the five nominated Shorts will be shown in select theaters here in the U.S. starting this week, running a total of 83 minutes. It’s great that these shorts will be released in theaters this week for a short window of time, along with the Live Action Shorts. It’s also great that they’ll be accompanied by some outliers that I haven’t had the chance to watch yet – Daniel Agdag’s “Lost Property Office” (Australia, 10 minutes), Nicholas Arioli’s “Coin Operated” (USA, 5 minutes) and Achoo (no details on that one at this time).

 

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DEAR BASKETBALL

USA (6 min.)

Created and narrated by Kobe Bryant and directed and animated by Glen Keane (whose worked on a handful of award-winning Disney features such as “Beauty and the Beast”, “Tarzan” and “Tangled”), this short is an adaptation of the retirement poem Bryant wrote on November 29, 2015, basically a personal ode to the game that made him a star. The hand-drawn animation approach is fluid and is akin to a storyboard approach, depicting Bryant as a young boy dreaming about basketball to a professional athlete in the purple and yellow Lakers jersey he’s known for. He recounts his dreams and passion of the sport and reflects that at some point his body won’t be able to continue, regardless of where his heart and mind is. Ultimately, this short is just okay. Honestly, I found myself quite surprised that it received an Oscar nomination, since the only thing that truly stands out is the score by Oscar-winner John Williams.

RATING: **

 

 

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GARDEN PARTY

France (7 min.)

Six directors (Florian Babikian, Vincent Bayoux, Victor Caire, Théophile Dufresne, Gabriel Grapperon & Lucas Navarro) made this photo-realistic amphibious adventure from France come to life. The dialogue-free story takes place at a fancy abandoned house and follows several of frogs and toads as they explore their surroundings – from the bedroom to the kitchen to the outdoor swimming pool – and follow their primal instincts. As the short unfolds, more information is slowly given about the human occupant(s) of the mansion, navigating into some macabre waters as the jazz number by Steve Sidwell and composer Romain Montiel crescendos right into the end credits. What this short does best is communicate a tale simply with visuals, sound effects and music, trusting the audience to arrive at their own conclusions. However, what “Garden Party” doesn’t do is offer a story that pulls you in and grabs you, leaving the short something of an afterthought.

RATING: **

 

 

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LOU 

USA (7 min.)

This directorial debut from Dave Mullins, a Pixar animator on the likes of “The Incredibles”, “Brave” and “Inside Out”, takes place on a grade school playground, following the creative titular character who manages the playgrounds discarded toys and lost clothing articles and how it deals with the torturous exploits of a bully who can’t seem to rest until everyone around him is as miserable as he is. I like Pixar shorts. They’re one of the things I anticipate about the features, but when it comes to Oscar-nominated shorts, I’m looking for something that uses the medium in a unique way while telling a story that’s relevant, illuminating something important. This just feels clever and cute, that’s it. If “Lou” looks and sounds familiar, it’s because it appeared on the big-screen prior to “Cars 3” last summer.

RATING: **1/2

 

 

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NEGATIVE SPACE 

France (5 min.) 

Wow. This one floored me in unexpected ways. It’s an aesthitcally fascinating short that started out quirky and wound up plucking some heartstrings in the old ticker. It tells the bittersweet father/son relationship, as told from the perspective of the son, who’ve bonded over the art of packing a suitcase. The son reflects on how his father, who often traveled on business trips, taught him this efficient skill that he himself learned to master – through narration we hear the son share, “Some guys bond with their dads over hoops or over Chevrolets, we did it over luggage”.  It’s an adaptation of a poem by Ron Koertge, directed by Max Porter and Ru Kuwahata in what feels like a very personal manner. I’m not going to go into where it goes, but I will say it’s quite surprising and poignant. I was too absorbed by the detailed stop-motion animation style to be on the look out for any semblance of predictable storytelling. Once I was aware where the story was going, I was smacked upside the head with emotions related to what was subtlety communicated on screen. This should win the golden boy and if it doesn’t the voters are dim.

RATING: ****

 

 

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REVOLTING RHYMES 

UK/Germany (29 min.)

The longest “short” is also the one with “name actors” voicing characters of the all the nominees in this category, but it’s also the most tedious to get through – or maybe it’s because it’s the last short in this category that I watched and I wasn’t thrilled for the runtime. The CGI-animated short’s length is ironic considering it’s based on a 1982 book of the same name, illustrated by Quentin Blake, which was the shortest children’s book Roald Dahl. The short does what that book did, offering a retelling of classic fairy tales that include the likes of Little Red Riding Hood (Rose Leslie), Snow White (Gemma Chan), The Three Little Pigs (David Walliams and Rob Bryden), Jack and the Beanstalk (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) and Cinderella (Bel Powley), narrated by a sly wolf (Dominic West) who mixes all the characters together and twists them in a mischievous manner. It’s no surprise that this appeared as a two-parter on BBC, considering it feels less like a Short than it does a pilot to a series. Nothing against the animators here or the two directors, Jakob Schuh and Jan Lachauer (who was previously nominated for “Room on the Broom” in 2014), but I couldn’t help wondering what other animated shorts were bumped in favor of selected this long short as a nominee.

RATING: **

 

 

Find out who will win on March 4th, when the Oscar ceremony will be telecast on ABC.

 

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