I’ve been going to screenings of The Oscar Nominated Animated Short Films for the past five years and I’ve had the pleasure of watching some truly memorable shorts, including “Wallace & Gromit in A Matter of Loaf and Death”, “Logorama” (if you’ve never seen it look it up on YouTube), and great entries from Disney, Pixar and countries throughout the world.
This year’s group features two standouts, but the rest of the line-up of nominees and “highly commended” entries is sub-par.
Before I get to the individual films, I have to point out the HUGE mistake the Academy made by having animated “emcees” for the show. In previous years, in between each short, there’s been either commentary from filmmakers who had won the previous year or nothing at all. This time we are treated to an annoying, bow-tied Giraffe and Ostrich who talk about what’s it like being stand-ins for famous animated characters. They make wisecracks about cartoon titans such as Mickey Mouse, Marge Simpson and Porky Pig. The first few times they’re on-screen the pair is tolerable, but the act gets tiresome – fast. NEVER AGAIN, ACADEMY! This is NOT what animation fans want to have to sit through when they come to see the nominated shorts. Keep the attention on the works that you are honoring.
“Feral” – A story about a boy who didn’t CRY wolf – he IS wolf! He’s discovered by a hunter who brings him home and tries to “civilize” him, but things don’t go too well. Nice artistry, but lacks energy while going too deep and psychological in the final act. C
“Get a Horse!” – If you’ve seen “Frozen” (and who hasn’t) chances are you’ve seen this Mickey Mouse comeback short as well. The folks at Disney perfectly combine classic hand-drawn animation with colorful CGI in a movie theater setting for a highly energetic and wildly fun six-minute romp. Walt’s own voice recordings are used for Mickey’s audio track. The big favorite to win on Oscar Sunday. A-
“Mr. Hublot” – In a world where every person and animal is a robot, a lonely man with some obsessive home issues takes in an abandoned dog. Simple story, but likeable animation and some smart moments. B-
“Possessions” – From Japan, this short centers on a traveler who stays in a deserted hut for one memorable night. Mixes both light and serious tones, with messages about recycling and finding your inner self. Not consistently entertaining, but a solid effort. C+
“Room on the Broom” – From the makers of “The Gruffalo” shorts comes this very enjoyable adaptation of a children’s book about a kind witch and some fun animal friends. Featuring a voice cast of Simon Pegg, Gillian Anderson and Sally Hawkins, this is a cute and irresistible tale with a great amount of humor and heart. It’s the longest of the nominees (26 minutes) but it “flies by”, and would be the Oscar favorite if not for Mickey and Co. B+
“A la Francaise” – This has to be the worst animated short ever honored by the Academy. The “story” (though there really isn’t one) involves chickens in 1700s at Versailles dressed in fancy French clothing. That’s it. Not a cluck or chuckle to be found anywhere. The creators truly laid an egg. D
“The Blue Umbrella” – It’s Pixar’s entry, which played this summer before “Monsters
University”. The animation is creative (often perceived as real-life footage), but
the story of a blue umbrella falling in love with a red umbrella on the rainy streets on NYC is first-grade level material. Relieved that it didn’t get a nomination. C
“The Missing Scarf” – George Takei narrates this satirical effort, which features a wise squirrel trying to find his scarf and solve his animal friends’ problems (including dealing with the fear of the end of the world). Nice idea, but the execution falls short. C
Overall, this is the worst group of shorts in my 5-years of a reviewing The Oscar Nominated Shorts and the first time I can’t recommend attending the program. Hopefully you’ve seen “Get a Horse!” and “Room on a Broom” is available online and on DVD. Seek-out those two.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “The Oscar Nominated Animated Short Films 2014” gets a C+.