Sunday, February 21, 2016

Oscar-Nominated Animated Short Films for 2015

I usually try to catch the collections of all of the Oscar-nominated films in the "animated short film" category, which are always shown as a collection in a theater near me. This year's set was, as a whole, one of the best groups I've seen over the four or five years that I've seen these collections:

As always, you can expect a vibrant display of color in Pixar's
entry in the category this year.
Sanjay's Super-Team 

Director: Sanjay Patel

This year's Pixar Studios entry. It's a mostly visual tale about a young Indian boy, Sanjay, who is obsessed with a cartoon superteam of vibrantly costumed heroes. When his devout father has him leave his TV show to pray with him, Sanjay reluctantly joins him at his prayer station. Just as Sanjay's attention starts to completely drift, though, his imagination is sparked by the wondrous Hindu figures in his father's prayer box. What follows is a dazzling action scene in which Sanjay envisions the Hindu gods becoming versions of the superteam characters, who fight off a menacing monster of darkness. As usual for Pixar, the animation and visuals are first-class. The story is a nice little departure for them, too, into the realms of a religion which is not common in the U.S. Still, it's not the best Pixar short I've ever seen. This one was my third favorite of the nominees.

World of Tomorrow

Director: Don Hertzfeld

Mind-blowing. Strong words, I know, for an animated short film, but they are appropriate. World of Tomorrow is a simultaneously hilarious, poetic, and brilliant little piece of speculative fiction. Using rather rudimentary visuals, this 17-minute short tells the story of Emily. A very young Emily is visited by a distant clone of herself from 227 years in the future, who begins telling her about many of the things to come. The future Emily tells tales of space exploration, memory control and
Yes, the animation might look crude at a glance, but its
abstract style makes perfect sense for the story and dialogue.
manipulation, extra-sensory communication, and many bizarre facets of future civilizations which one might find in some of the most fascinating and creative works of science-fiction. The future Emily delivers even the most terrifying and wondrous facts about her future in a dry monotone, which enhances the comedy value exponentially. An unexamined look at this film's visuals might make it seem cheap and simple, but they actually serve as a very plausible way of depicting how the young Emily, who is probably around 3 years old, is attempting to process ideas which are far beyond her mental grasp. This is one of the most creative animated films I've ever seen, and it was my favorite of the group.

Bear Story

Director: Gabriel Osorio

Great animation, but overly sentimental. Bear Story follows a humanoid adult bear who uses a complex mechanized box to both entertain children and tell the story of how he was abducted from his wife and son into a zoo. The animation is digital, and it showcases some spectacular visuals which emulate other animation forms such as stop-motion animation and elaborate, moving dioramas. The story, however, is all about the low-hanging fruit of making you feel sorry for the fluffy, sad bear. No new ground being tilled, here. This wasn't a bad film, but it was my least favorite of the group, by far.

We Can't Live Without Cosmos

Director: Konstantin Broznit

Terrible title, but great little film. Using relatively simple, hand-drawn animation, this film follows a pair of aspiring cosmonauts. The two are roommates who are among a larger group of potential cosmonauts competing for the chance to go into space. There is a touching yet unsentimental feeling to their story as it unfolds, and there is a wealth of great visual storytelling and gags. This one found a rare and welcome blend of gravity, humor, and creativity to make for what I thought was the second best film of the set.

The short Prologue features some stunning, traditional
pencil drawing to tell its story of the horror or warfare.
Prologue

Director: Richard Williams

The hardest-hitting of the bunch. So hard-hitting and graphic, in fact, that this one came with a disclaimer suggesting that young children not see it. Prologue goes old-school with its graphics, using color pencil sketches to depict a battle between four ancient warriors, seemingly from Classical Greek times. The four soldiers, armed with spears and bows, brutally attack and kill each other. The final images convey the horrors of warfare, and everything is done without the use of dialogue. This one showed some nice traditional animation skills and sticks with a profound, if not exactly novel, message. My fourth favorite of the group, though right on par with Sanjay's Super Team.

Final Thoughts

This year's was actually a good group, top to bottom. In recent years, there have always been at least one short which seemed pointless beyond displaying some commendable animation. In past years, there have also been at least one extremely sappy, sentimental entry, which almost always wins. This year, though, I felt that only Bear Story was conspicuous in its attempts at your emotions. The others steered well clear. If I had my way, World of Tomorrow would be the hands-down winner this year. In terms of creativity, it is well beyond the other entries. If it doesn't win, I expect that Sanjay's Super Team could pull in down, both for its strong animation and its culturally inclusive nature.