If there’s any consensus among the Slant staffers who’ve spent way too much time trying to peg the winner in this category, it’s that only two nominees can be safely ruled out. PES’s Fresh Guacamole, which has amassed almost seven million views on YouTube since May of last year, is a conceptual dazzler that, not unlike one of our favorite music videos of last year, Benga’s “I Will Never Change,” feels entirely too circumscribed by its very conceptuality to register as anything beyond a cleverly executed (and all-too-brief) stunt. A nay as well to Maggie Simpson in “The Longest Daycare”, a charming and ultimately touching tale about the youngest Simpson, upon being denied entrance into a daycare’s gifted section, using all her chutzpah to save a butterfly from her famous unibrowed archnemesis. That the effectiveness of the short almost hinges on the audience’s familiarity with The Simpsons (Maggie Simpson has a unibrowed archnemesis?) may be as much of a detriment as its guilt-by-association corporate-ness, having played in theaters prior to Ice Age: Continental Drift.
Of course, by that logic we should also rule out Paperman, which was paired in theaters last year with Oscar-nominee Wreck-It Ralph and seems to appeal to a breed of human rarer than the practically extinct Simpsons fan: those who still get all creamy at the sight of a Disney heroine’s eyes popping up on screen. We’re immune to such ostensible pleasures, and though we acknowledge that the short’s similarities to two major Oscar winners from last year (The Artist and The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore) shouldn’t be discounted, Paperman feels entirely too frivolous in the end for it to break what seems like a curse by becoming the first non-Pixar Disney short to win in this category since 1969’s It’s Tough to Be a Bird, a fact ignored by every Oscar pundit who instinctually backs the Disney nominee every year as if by clockwork.
Looking at the winners in this category for the last two decades, voters have shown an unmistakable preference for more traditionally animated films, mostly cel animation, and some of them among the most poignant nominees in the category. A win, then, for one of my favorite Oscar nominees this year, Minkyu Lee’s Adam and Dog, about a pooch who befriends Adam in the Garden of Eden, loses him, then joins his new master, as well as Eve, in the land beyond the paradise from which they’ve been foisted by a faceless God, would be consistent with past victories here for distinctly old-fashioned animations like The Moon and the Son: An Imagined Conversation, The Danish Poet, and La Maison en Petits Cubes. But in spite of some impeccably drawn backgrounds, Adam and Dog feels to some of us inconsistently animated throughout, almost too minimalist by design, and perhaps too subtle a rumination on who truly is man’s best friend—dog or God—for it to seal the deal in the end.
That leaves Head Over Heels, no one’s favorite short but no one’s least favorite either. Actually, the premise of Timothy Reckart and Fodhla Cronin O’Reilly’s film—about an elderly couple so emotionally removed from one another that they occupy different gravitational pulls within their own home—is close to cringe-inducing in its literal-mindedness, but unlike Henry in the live-action short category, Head Over Heels very heavily flirts with sentimentality without veering shamelessly into audience manipulation; its sense of detail is striking enough in its specificity (shades of previous stop-motion winner Harvey Krumpet) and its tone is bittersweet without being cloying. Also, it can’t hurt that its whimsy and plot not only evokes previous Oscar champ Up, but that its emotional core is strikingly reminiscent of Amour. Even the makers of The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore will tell you that it’s a boon for a short to taste like a flavor of the moment contending for Best Picture.
Will Win: Head Over Heels
Could Win: Adam and Dog
Should Win: Adam and Dog