As I continue to provide insight into how films make me feel, I offer another word symphony – or cacophony to some – that ebbs and flows with my lyrical opinions about this year’s Oscar-Nominated Short Films in the Animation category. I’d like to first declare something about how my opinion of animated films has shifted recently. I’ve met someone who has suggested many animated feature films – some good, some not so good – for me to watch. But what viewing them has shown me is that there is an obvious formulaic approach to constructing plots in animated film.
Her position — and I think it’s a valid one — is that Disney has monopolized animated films, and thus their plot formula is mimicked by other studios hoping to gain a toehold in the marketshare battle that Disney clearly has the upper hand in. I recently read an article that says animation deserves more cynicism to help bring the art form into the forefront again. I think this is true. I thought she was being far to cynical about the animated film industry. A lot of the Disney films I’ve seen really move me! But they rely on a story trope that doesn’t help animation as a whole make progress. This is unfortunate. I don’t claim to have any ideas for them. I think making animated films more diverse is a good first step though. My friend is currently helping with a project called “Book of Mojo” that is doing just that. The artist has released a spot-on video teaser as well. It’s a smart story and one that I’d love to see brought to life in a web series before eventually jumping to the big screen.
Okay, okay, enough preaching. Onto my opinion of this year’s Oscar-nominated animated short films. As I did with my post about the Oscar-nominated documentary short films, I’ll provide analysis of the films in the order in which I saw them and then provide my selection for the winner at the end.
1. Me and My Moulton by Torrill Kove A-
This is a delightful short film that is narrated by the main character, a young girl who, along with her two sisters, wants a bike. She is the middle child and her story is told eloquently using bouncy, vibrant colors which give the entire piece a genuinely sweet quality. Her parents want to satisfy their children’s every wish of course, but they’re not the most typical of parents. Of all the men who live in town, the father is the only one with a mustache. The protagonist is too young and innocent to understand that her parent’s differences are precisely what has given her the upbringing and nurturing that will certainly form her into a capable, intelligent woman. She rues the fact that her parents modern architect profession gives her a living situation that is far more design over function. The 3-legged chairs she and her siblings must sit in is a perfect illustration of this. Her parents can sit with ease in the chairs. It is this ease that sit in strange chairs that they also love their children. The ending is exceptional.
2. Feast by Patrick by Osborne & Kristina Reed C+
This is a lovely little film with a story that is certain to pull at your heartstrings. But it is precisely the standard sort of story trope that I’m becoming bored with. I first saw this film when I saw Big Hero 6 (which is also a standard trope film) and was delighted by it. It’s easy to infer what the story is about: a cute puppy and his master bond quickly over food; conflict occurs; our cute puppy fellow overcomes; all is well with the world. I hate feeling like I’m knocking this idea! The core of the story is about overcoming odds and being a loving companion.That’s a timeless story that absolutely deserves to be drilled into children’s brain grapes. But the media theory lover in me is instantly struck by Claude Shannon’s words, “The more redundant the message, the less information it carries.”
3. The Bigger Picture by Daisy Jacobs & Christopher Fees B+
This is the most artistic of the nominated films by a massive margin. It’s a style of animation I’ve never seen and incorporates all kinds of stunning visuals. How do you animate water? How do you animate malaise? How do you animate the topic of elder care? This film does it all and it articulates a subconscious feeling that we all will certainly encounter in the future. The idea is stellar, but the execution of telling the story is boring.
4. A Single of Life by Marieke Blaauw, Joris Oprins, Job Roggeveen A
This is the best of the bunch. Each film is introduced with the title, directors and running time. When this one was introduced, I was shocked to see it only has a running time of 2 minutes. Whhhaaaaa? This film turns the idea that a long film of great quality feels shorter than it is on it’s head. This is an exceptional film that felt longer than it is. That’s a good thing, too, because the idea is so eloquent that I know I’ll never get tired of watching it. The animation style left me wanting, but only slightly.
5. The Dam Keeper by Robert Kondo & Dice Tsutsumi (A-)
Another delightful story —this time told in three acts rather one like Feast. That contributes to the meatiness of the plot, but the plot is still very much a standard plot trope created by Disney. Like Feast the idea is a good one and one that I feel strongly about using to educate children on how to behave, both ecologically and socially. The root of the story is simply to be nice to people and not make fun of other’s differences, while concurrently being a good steward of planet Earth. The golden rule is on full display in this film, and that coupled with an animation style that offers a significant amount o texture, take this into the A-rating category. The trope is ever-so-obvious to me though. I think those not having as much contextual knowledge of what animated films are doing now will really enjoy this piece. Ignorance is indeed bliss friends!
Here’s how I rank them.
1. A Single Life
2. Me and My Moulton
3. The Bigger Picture
4. The Dam Keeper
I think The Dam Keeper will win though. Often times, it’s the film that is seen most — especially in the shorts category — is the one that wins. Feast was attached to Big Hero 6 helps it out a great deal, but like I explained above The Dam Keeper has been to many festivals and done quite well. It’s a deeper dive into character development and I think the environmental stewardship piece puts above the others. If these films are available in your area, make a beeline to see them because they are excellent.
Finally, I’d just like to say that my opinion on animated film is evolving. It’s tough for a film genre to be saddled with the responsibility of appealing to a younger, more innocent demographic. Many of these films insert jokes that children won’t even register, but their parents will. It’s important that children have films to look forward to and a reason to explore their world through cinema that uniquely resonates with them. Why do I want animated short films to move in the same way documentary short films do? That’s a pretty difficult, if not impossible, demand. Watching these films touches me in very different ways and I’m okay with that. I think it’s smart for us to all understand this when we pay to see movies. The bottom line is that we expose ourselves to as much cinema as possible. Enjoy the movies, folks!