Skip to content

2023 Oscar-nominated Animated Shorts (review)

March 6, 2023


Out of the three categories in the Oscar-nominated Shorts, each year I quietly hope that the Animated category winds up offering the best of the bunch. That’s probably because I see the potential that the medium offers. Regardless of the subject, there is arguably more that can be done with animation than can be done with Live-Action and therefore the options and the potential are only as limited as the director’s imagination (and possibly the tools available). At their best, the shorts in this category can serve as a reminder that anything can happen in animation.

It turns out my hopes have come true. This year’s crop of five nominees in the Animated Shorts are uniformly great. However, the greatest thing about them is how different they are stylistically, offering a variety of visually fascinating animated styles that serve each short story in a fitting manner.

Apart from the Apple Original Films’ “The Boy, The Mole, The Fox, and The Horse” the nominees in this category are targeted toward a more mature viewer. That right there may subvert expectations for some audiences. There’s a hormonal teenager on a journey to lose her virginity, a salty sailor coming close to death, a father and son’s hearth and home is threatened by global warming, and a office worker begins to realize that someone else has a hand in his world (literally). They’re all well told, curious, and quite beguiling.

It’s quite impressive that there’s not a weak offering in the entire category. Be that as it may, some are better than others, simply in their uniqueness, how certain techniques are employed and how distinctive elements of some shorts separate them from the rest. Below are my thoughts on these shorts, from quite good to excellent…


(34 min.)

Not that it matters, but the nominee with the most star-power is directed by Peter Baynton and Charlie Mackesy and written by Jon Croker and Mackesy, based on Mackesy’s 2019 illustrated novel of the same name. Co-produced by the likes of Woody Harrelson and J.J. Abrams and featuring voice work by Gabriel Byrne, Tom Hollander, and Idris Elba. “The Boy, The Mole, The Fox, and The Horse” has a traditional animation feel to it, as if Mackesy’s ink and watercolor illustrations have come to life. The simple story is a bit on-the-nose with its multiple morality life lessons laced throughout (“Asking for help isn’t giving up. It’s refusing to give up,” is one of many), as a young Boy (Jude Coward Nicoll) finds himself lost in a wintry wilderness with no direction home. He’s befriended by a Mole (Hollander), a Fox (Elba), and a Horse (Byrne), all of whom wind up helping each other with emotional and moral support, as well as moments of confidence-building and affirmations. These lessons are integral to the younger target audience, but the overall short will leave some adult viewers wanting a little more substance. Still, it’s a sweet, visually beautiful tale, that is like a mashup of Kipper and Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree, with many timeless messages. (currently available on AppleTV+)



(7 min.)

It’s hard to believe that this quirky and lively short is based on a true story, but Canadian animators Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby’s “The Flying Sailor,” is indeed based on the rather uncanny Halifax Explosion of 1917, which sent a burly sailor flying more than 2 kilometers through the air. He landed safely, albeit sans clothes. While he flips and turns through the air, the short imagines the rotund character reflecting on his entire life while sailing through the air (and into space) while still maintaining a lit cigarette: childhood games, empty portholes, and his concerned mother, are just some of the images that flash before him. It’s a quick and utterly amusing short, with imaginative visuals and a fun score by Luigi Allemano.




(14 min.)

Written, directed, and composed by 27-year-old Portuguese illustrator and pianist, João Gonzalez, “Ice Merchants” is the most visually striking of the nominees in this category. The wordless tale follows a father and young son, who reside in a shack that’s a attached to a high icy cliffside that overlooks a village. Each day, the father straps the son to his chest and parachute down to sell ice to villagers, each time they wind up losing their hats. When they’re through, the father purchases them both new hats and they are lifted back up to their home using an intricate pulley system. One day, the father notices that the ice sheet they live on is melting, which finds him making a desperate survival decision for himself and his son. The challenge of any short with zero dialogue is to be able to tell the story in a succinct manner. Despite being a wonderful experience to take in, “Ice Nerchants” has a story that’s ultimately difficult to follow. If I hadn’t have read the description of the story online afterwards, I wouldn’t have put it all together on my own. That being said Gonzalez’s work here is impressive and I would love to see him direct an animated feature. The short is the first ever Portuguese animation to be awarded at the Cannes Film Festival and it’s the first Portuguese film to receive an Oscar nomination.

RATED: ***


(11 min.)

This stop-motion short, written and directed by Australian student filmmaker, Lachlan Pendragon, takes a surreal and humorous approach to the mundane life of the office drone. It focuses on Neil (voiced by Pendragon), a underperforming toaster salesman, who is reminded by his boss (Michael Richard) that his numbers just aren’t where they should be. But, Neil has more pressing concerns, like the discovery that his cubicle life may not be all that it has been. He starts to see hallucinations like a giant hand and body parts falling off (or missing from) his co-workers, and then there’s the talking ostrich (John Cavanagh) who tells him that this office life of his is a all a sham. Within its short running time, Pendragon packs quite a bit in this easy-to-follow, trippy tale that’s predominately told from the viewpoint of Pendragon’s monitor as he frames his hand-crafted protagonist. It’s a cool behind-the-scenes approach that’s laced throughout the existential storytelling process, resulting in a memorable and refreshing viewing experience.

RATING: ***1/2



(25 min.)

For obvious reasons, it was hilarious to witness this American short being mentioned on the morning the Oscars were being announced. Based on Pamela Ribon’s 2014 memoir, Notes to Boys: And Other Things I Shouldn’t Share in Public, and directed by Icelandic director, animator and artist, Sara Gunnarsdóttir, “My Year of Dicks” is hilariously honest look at one hormonal Houston teenage girl’s quest to lose her virginity in the early 1990s. Like the source material, the short takes an autobiographical approach using different styles of animation to align with the erratic and realistic look a clumsy and comical sexual awakening. Like most everyone’s sexual journey during their teens, the story here is filled with a variety of awkward moments, such as when Pam’s father has a frank sex talk with her and when she takes in a viewing of the NC-17 rated “Henry and June” with her friend, Wally. He’s one of a handful of boys who come close to popping Pam’s cherry. There’s also David and Robert (each boy gets their own chapter), and through it all there’s her best friend, Sam. It’s a raw and funny feminist take on the coming-of-age story, refreshingly told and utilizing a playful animation style, “My Year of Dicks” is the most personal and universal of all the nominees

RATING: ****


The 2023 Oscar-nominated short films will be available in select theaters on Friday, February 17. Find participating theaters here.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: