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2021 Oscar-nominated ANIMATED Shorts

April 7, 2021


It’s Oscar season, even though it doesn’t feel like it and that typically means there are Shorts that need your attention. Those who traditionally partake in Oscar pools will want to catch all of them in select theaters (this year, it’s a very select few, thanks to COVID) or On Demand via ShortsTV. If you’ve been paying attention over the years, these are the nominees I’m most curious about and ones I get the most exciting about each year after viewing them leading up to the telecast. While I usually recommend them, I must say I was a little disappointed in the Animated Shorts this year. Of the five nominees, only one is the real standout and it would ludicrous if it didn’t go home with a golden boy. The other four were fine, but just didn’t really rise to an Oscar level. Here’s my rundown, from worst to best…


Unfortunately, the short I lost the most interest in was “Opera” and that’s not due to its lack of creativity. It’s the overall aesthetics, along with the story’s slow-crawl which tested my attention span. The 9-minute short comes from the mind of South Korean/American animator Erick Oh and it is solely fixated on a triangular art piece that follows dot-sized stick-figure inhabitants as the camera pans downward, observing them go through all aspects of humanity. There are different things happening in the many chambers produced by Oh, such as war, weddings, funerals, and even the mundane like eating and pooping, but it’s a challenge to follow what exactly is going on (especially when there’s no dialogue) and all that viewers have to take in. I get that, sometimes you see more when you take several steps back and look at the big picture, but beyond that, it was just hard to get on board with this one.





“Burrow” tells a fun little tale (or tail, considering the protagonist) about a rabbit who’s burrowing her way underground, searching for a new home which turns out to be not as easy as she’d hoped. Despite her planning, which includes an elaborate blueprint for her envisioned home, the rabbit has a heck of a time finding a spot of her own thanks to all the other critters who inhabit this particular subterranean environment. All she wants is a one-room residence, but each way she finds herself bumping into a plethora of creatures (hedgehog bakers, bathing newts, and some partying beetles and ants) whichever way she digs. She comes close to giving up altogether, especially when she strikes a water table that begins to rise, but eventually she receives help from some of her soon-to-be neighbors. The characters in the story resemble those you’d find in the classic Wind in the Willows children’s book, somewhat anthropomorphic albeit non-speaking, a decision that draws more attention to the old-fashioned storybook approach. The story is simple, going deeper geographically, yet doesn’t really offer much depth in terms of themes with a predictable ending that sets out to teach younger audiences a nice lesson in civility. Written and directed by Madeline Sharafian as part of Disney/Pixar’s SparkShorts program, “Burrow” was originally set to be released theatrically in front of “Soul”, but it wound up on Disney+ in December at the same time the Oscar-nominated feature dropped.






From Iceland comes “Yes-People”, without a doubt the most comedic of the nominees as co-directors Gísli Darri Halldórsson and Arnar Gunnarsson take a look at the domestic lives of a handful of neighbors over the course of one single morning. It’s another short free of dialogue, in this case with characters grunting, snoring, slurping, playing clarinet, or singing in monosyllabic gibberish. The collage of characters begins with a middle-aged couple and then moves on to an older pair who live upstairs, as well as a single mother with two children. “Yes-People” is the lightest and loosest of the nominees and the rough animation with its changing mouth types and bendy limbs fits the tone just right. Overall, the 8-minute short (titled “Já-Fólkið” in Icelandic) is a fun romp that navigates the intricacies of human behavior, especially what tests them and how they cope.

RATING: **1/2



Probably the most visually imaginative yet most confusing short comes from French animator Adrien Mérigeau’s “Genius Loci”, which offers a surrealistic look at urban Paris, from the subjective perspective viewpoint of a young black woman named Reine. What she sees is confusing, primarily shared through a series of striking abstract images, using a retro-modernist pastiche. It’s as if viewers are given an opportunity to look within this young girl’s mind and therefore it makes sense that what is seen transforms into different shapes, things, and living beings: a homeless man changes into a blue horse, various faces dissolve into cubist parts, and dispersed pages turn into a pack of running dogs. There’s a somewhat menacing vibe that develops during the 16-minute short as Reine becomes overtaken by her surroundings as she embarks on a mystical and emotional journey. It may not be for everyone, but it’s certainly captivating with its kaleidoscopic ride.





By far, the most touching and engaging is “If Anything Happens I Love You”, which has been on Netflix since last November. While it may be another dialogue-free story, it packs an emotional punch as it patiently unveils what tragedy has impacted this detached married couple forever. They are haunted by the shadows of their past, yet maybe by acknowledging those shadows the man and woman maybe they can find a way forward. Directors Michael Glover and Will McCormack never hit us over the head with heavy themes nor do they spoon feed exactly what their goal is here. But, within the economic 12-minute time frame, they do allow viewers to arrive at their own conclusions and while their animation approach is simple, it is also quite alluring. Simple monochromatic pencils are primarily used, but when color (often shifting perspectives to reveal another aspect of the story) is introduced it has a purpose, revealing more to take in, eventually arriving at am emotionally wrenching finale. Without a doubt, this is the short that will resonate and impact the most.

RATING: ****




As in each year, ShortsTV included some “Highly Commended” entries in their collection of Oscar-nominated Shorts. There are three shorts that made the Oscar shortlist for potential nominees, but just didn’t make the cut. “The Snail and the Whale” is adapted by co-directors Max Lang and Suzanne Land (Max has worked on two previously Oscar-nominated animated shorts, “The Gruffalo” and “Room on the Broom”, and illustrates children’s stories for his wife, Suzanne), from a book by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler, and it follows the amazing journey of two titular characters, Snail (voiced by Sally Hawkins) and Whale (Rob Brydon), narrated by the late Diana Rigg. It’s a sweet and funny tale, that is very similar to the stories that the creators have previously made. “To Gerard” comes from Dreamworks Animation and is the directorial debut of Taylor Meachum (who’s been involved in animation as a storyboard artist and assistant director) and it involves a content mailman who dreams of becoming a famous magician like his childhood hero. When a young girl enters his life and swept up by his talents which changes both of their lives forever. It’s another fun short, but I can see how it didn’t standout amongst the others in the shortlist. “Kapaemahu” is the best of the three, chiefly because it tells an untold story from ancient Hawaii, vividly bringing the story of four extraordinary spirits who brought their healing arts from Tahiti to Hawaii. Beloved by the people for their gentle ways and miraculous cures, they imbued four giant boulders with their powers. The stones still stand on what is now Waikiki Beach, but the true story behind them is told here in a captivating manner. Narrated in an ancient Hawaiian dialect, written by Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu (who co-directed with Dean Hamer and Joe Wilson) through the eyes of a child, this could’ve easily been nominated for an Oscar. These three were fun to watch and one of them may have even been better than the two lesser nominees, but they ultimately didn’t stand out like the five nominees did.



All five Oscar-nominated Documentary Shorts can be see in theaters or On Demand!


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