The Flower wasn’t particularly interested in the seeing the animated short nominations this year, and I can’t really say that I blamed her given the mixed quality of previous years outings. This year was not really different, except to be rather unremarkable all the way around. Nothing really bad, I’d say—in fact, I’d say these were mostly quite good—but nothing really spectacular either. Nothing that makes you say “That was Oscar-worthy” in a non-ironic or non-hedged way. The contents of the show were:
Dear Basketball: Kobe Bryant’s “poem”—really more of a sentimental essay—put to a John Williams’ score and animated (marginally) by Pixar’s Glen Keane. This was fine. I predicted it would win because there are no bigger starf*ckers than Hollywood itself, and this was just wall-to-wall star power. The poem itself is fine, the music is fine (a little on-the-nose but how else you gonna play it?), and the animation was—well, the Flower watched it on Netflix afterwards and said it looked like it was just key frames with no tweening. Again, it’s fine as an aesthetic choice, but this was about celebrity-as-celebrity.
Lou: A ruthlessly competent Pixar short which might be subtitled “The Redemption of Sid”. In this one, a box of lost-and-found items targets a playground bully, forcing him to restore lost items to their correct owners (or at least some kids who might use the items). In the end, he becomes enchanted with Lou (Lost-and-found), only to discover that Lou is no more because he was composed of all the items given away. But he has a bunch of real friends now.
Negative Space: Perhaps my favorite, this is a story about a boy who learned how to bond with his father over packing. It’s sort of morbid and muted, the latter I find barely excusable in animation, but there’s genuine heart to this where it might have lapsed into mawkishness. The animation is stop-motion and very well suited to the story at hand.
Revolting Rhymes: This is by far the slickest production of the bunch, being an animation of a freely adapted Roald Dahl poems, and highly reminiscent of “The Room On The Broom” and “The Gruffalo”. Which makes sense because same company. An all-star cast of British voices from all your favorite English shows and movies like “Harry Abbey” and “Game of Whos” voice characters like the heavily armed Red Riding Hood and the sassy Snow White. It’s quite entertaining. Part 1 was nominated for an Oscar but Part 2 wasn’t, because…well, then it wouldn’t be a short any more. (It’s half-an-hour long which really puts it in a different class than all the others.)
Garden Party: This is near Pixar-level animation, though I did spot some CGI artifacts in some of the more challenging places, and it was the boldest of the nominated shorts, being kind of A Bug’s Life if that movie were about frogs and the frogs weren’t anthropomorphic. They are literal frogs, hopping around an abandoned mansion where some kind of horrific human event has taken place. I really liked it except for the ending, and the only reason I didn’t like the ending was that I: a) saw it coming almost immediately; b) felt it was unnecessarily baroque; c) felt it was unnecessary generally, like the mystery of what had happened would’ve been better than the reveal. These are nitpicks, though. My only advice is, sit through it once before you show your toddlers.
The honorable mentions featured in this showing (because not all of the honorable mentions were shown as part of this package):
Lost Property Office: Abandoned items are a popular topic for animated shorts, we’ve noticed, and this year there were two! (This one and “Lou”, above.) I liked this stop-motion animation that was done entirely with cardboard, I believe, which told the story of a clerk in the Lost Property Office who is fired because no one has come around to claim anything in four years or so. Heh. It looked like it might go dark but instead had a whimsical, happy ending. I would have picked this over the Kobe one to even be in the official noms.
Weeds: OK, this I could see as not being nominated. It’s short—at only three minutes—but it’s a cute and mordant commentary on how perspective changes one’s opinion on the value of life. We liked it a lot.
Achoo: This one is also rather cute though I thought the animation a bit murky. It’s the story of a dragon who isn’t really good with the fireworks, and who, with a little spunk and luck, shapes the history of Chinese pyrotechnics.
I wouldn’t run out and yell at people that they had to see any of these, but I wouldn’t tell you to flip away from them if they came on. “Revolting Rhymes” is currently on Netflix, and I think the Kobe one is on YouTube so, sure, check ’em out. Just watch out for “Garden Party”—not something you show the toddlers, probably.