This year’s Oscar-nominated animated shorts, like their feature counterparts, find themselves awkwardly divided along a clear line between “serious,” experimental offerings and innocuous consumer-friendly fare. Although the disparity between these two sensibilities is thankfully not as pronounced as in the feature-length category, the Academy’s glib dualistic perception of animated cinema is no less evident in its selection of honorees here. Regardless of which subcategory this year’s nominees fall into, one characteristic these films share is a particular narrative slightness that often compromises gorgeous images.
Both Feral and Possessions will garner attention for their novel visual approaches, the former especially for its conceptual originality. It tells a dialogue-free story of a boy living among the wild, and who’s taken in and domesticated by a hunter. Animated in endlessly morphing variations of gray, its pliable backdrops and characters punch up a banal story that may leave voters more perplexed than beguiled. Possessions, though less morose, comes across like an abridged version of a more complete film. Its tale of a man lost in a forest who stumbles across an abandoned shrine is rendered in vibrant colors and offers several inventive touches (namely the tiny umbrella creatures), but it amounts to little more than a dashing exercise in motion and color.
On the much less avant-garde side of the animation spectrum, Disney tries its hand at meta storytelling with Get a Horse!, a hyper-violent indulgence in which a throwback black-and-white “Mickey Saves Minnie” story crashes through the screen into the world of bad CGI (and in 3D!). Alas, Disney waxing reflexive turns out to be just as revoltingly self-satisfied as it sounds, making Get a Horse!, which was paired in theaters last year with Frozen, an unlikely successor to last year’s winning entry from the studio, The Paperman.
Standing a stronger chance is Room on the Broom, an adaptation of the children’s book of the same name, in which an accommodating witch unwittingly assembles a team of animals to accompany her in flying the skies. While its patient simplicity didn’t win over everyone on Slant’s Oscar prediction team, the short captures the gentle spirit of a children’s book more assuredly and imaginatively than a good deal of children’s book adaptations. And if that’s not enough for Room on the Broom to endear itself to the Academy, Simon Pegg’s delirious narration just might.
But arguably the surest bet here for those entering an Oscar pool this year is Mr. Hublot, which weaves a Pixar-esque story of an obsessive-compulsive robot-man’s unspoken connection with a dog set against the backdrop of a superbly realized machine city. Landing somewhere in between the polarized classes into which a majority of features and shorts too often split in both animation categories, the short, though entirely unsubstantial, blends a certain amount of indie quirkiness with more familiar pop-story elements that we think will win over voters.
Will Win: Mr. Hublot
Could Win: Room on the Broom
Should Win: Room on the Broom
Editor’s Note: The Oscar Nominated Short Films 2014, presented by ShortsHD, will open in theaters nationwide on January 31. For locations, click here.