We didn’t go see last year’s Oscar-nominated animated shorts; I couldn’t get The Boy interested. This year, however, he lead the way, suggesting that, perhaps, his schedule had something to do with his reluctance last year. (Last year we only saw 13 movies in January and February!) This year’s schedule consisted of ten shorts that, overall, range from the not very bad to the not very good. Well, okay, that’s not entirely fair: Let me say that while they were generally entertaining, there wasn’t a lot of what we would call great work—but neither was much of it awful. In other words, we found ourselves neither “blown away” by any of it (with perhaps one exception), nor grossly put-off by any of it.
Damning with faint praise out of the way, there were ten films, all of which were basically appropriate for children, except for one which was shown last so you could vacate the theater, as needed.
The ten shorts were:
“Sanjay’s Super Team”: A cute short found at the front of Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur, which we had just seen. I thought it was a charming story—about an Americanized east Indian Boy who swaps in his father’s dieties for his favorite superheroes—and the stylized animation was effective and appropriate. This was The Flower’s favorite, she said, due to the colors used which were extremely vivid. (There may have been some Pixar bias involved.)
“The World of Tomorrow”: Reminding me of nothing so much as 2014’s “The Missing Scarf”, this is a simple stick-figure drawn sci-fi story that is weirdly dark. In it, a little girl is confronted by herself from the future. Not even herself, but the nth clone of herself, who details the weird direction the world has taken in terms of cloning, consciousness, and time travel in the future—to a child who seems to be about five years old.
“Bear Story”: One of The Boy’s favorites, done in a deceptively crude stop-motion style, then in a more sophisticated story-within-a-story stop-motion style. This is about a (anthropomorphized) bear who has constructed a marvellous nickelodeon-type device that he lets people on the street peep through for change. The story-within-a-story is about a bear who’s living his (anthropomorphized) life in an apartment with his family until he’s dragged off by circus goons.
“We Can’t Live Without Cosmos”: A story that was the favorite of both myself and The Boy, and sort of surprisingly sentimental for something coming from Russia. Two pals, excelling in the space program, have nothing but absolute love of space and the space program—and each other. It was almost weird to see something so pure, so genuinely good-natured and so philanthropic (in the sense of “loving man”) in a movie theater.
“Prologue”: The final of the five nominated films, and the last one shown, this is the story of, as The Boy put it, some guys who decide to conquer the world by stripping down naked and walking in opposite directions until they’ve attacked everything in their path. This is not an accurate summary, but it’s a funny one. It is, essentially, six minutes of four soldiers murdering each other. Two of the soldiers are naked—presumably the Spartans (who are fighting Athenians) but of course they didn’t actually fight naked. (I’ve heard some groups fought naked, but I would need severe convincing of this. I have heard—and I find it plausible—that people are very averse to being stabbed, even more than being shot, which makes fighting naked something it’d be hard to find volunteers for.)
I suspect “Prologue” will win. It’s very dramatically animated by the mad genius who has been struggling with the “unfinished classic” The Thief and The Cobbler for over fifty years. It’s also gross and violent while being anti-war—and has penises and entrails. (I guess you could say I don’t think much of the Academy.)
The “honorable mention” five:
“If I Was God”: This was weird, both in its uneven animation and its sort of banal story. A kid fantasizes in junior high school biology about—honestly, I forget what. There was a mean girl, a girl he liked, frog entrails. I don’t know.
“Taking Flight”: I think we just flat out missed this one.
“The Short Story of a Fox and a Mouse”: A fable about saving your food rather than eating it, I guess. The kids were rather underwhelmed with the quality of the animation on this one. It looked like it had the potential to be good but was perhaps too low-budget. For me, though, the point of a fable is the moral of the story, which should be clever, or at least comprehensible, where this one really wasn’t.
“The Loneliest Stoplight”: A Plymptoon! You gotta admire a guy like Bill Plympton, who turned down Disney’s Aladdin. Well, I don’t know, maybe you don’t: He turned down a multi-million dollar deal because he didn’t want Disney to own his ideas. I think it’s fair to say, though, that Disney wasn’t going to be using many of the ideas he’s made his career on, like infidelity, smoking LOTS of cigarettes, or even (as in this case) Patton Oswalt as a traffic light in the middle of nowhere. This is the sort of thing where you see it and go “OK, I don’t think I care where this is going.” But the guy knows what he’s doing and by the end, you find yourself rooting for the little stoplight and his well-meaning ambitions. (The Flower said, “That’s Ratatouille!”)
It’s interesting to note that Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet, which Plympton did a segment of, was completely snubbed this year. I guess I’m not surprised, especially from the organization that nominated Anomalisa.
The last film (before “Prologue”) was “Catch It”, which was also rather weak. It was basically a variation on Blue Sky’s Scrat (not nominated or even short-listed) which itself is just a variant of the Coyote and Road Runner .
So, I think we’d at least agree that of the ten films they were considering, the nominated five were the best. But there wasn’t a lot here to knock our socks off.