Oscar Nominated Animated Short Films (Shorts HD, NR)

The animation is delightful and the look of the mechanical theatre quite remarkable, while the film’s gently melancholic tone fits a story that is both sad and sweet.

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Animated films can tell all kinds of stories, and this is true not only of animated features (I love both Inside Out and Anomalisa, but they are very different films) but also of the animated shorts which constitute an awards category recognized by the Motion Picture Academy since 1932. The animated short films program presented this year by Shorts HD consists of nine films, including the five Oscar nominees, with a total running time of 86 minutes.

Although there’s a lot of variety in this year’s nominees, and they’re all high-quality films, only one really stood out to me: “Historia de un Oso” (“Bear Story,” 11 min.), a Chilean film directed by Pato Escala. Escala uses stop-motion animation and that old warhorse, the story-within-a-story device, to deliver a touching, dialogue-free story about the life of a lonely old bear (seriously, just think of Ed Asner’s character in Up with fur) who uses a portable mechanical theater to tell his life story to paying audiences. The animation is delightful and the look of the mechanical theatre quite remarkable, while the film’s gently melancholic tone fits a story that is both sad and sweet.

“Sanjay’s Super Team” (7 min.) is a Pixar film directed by Sanjay Patel. Young Sanjay loves American pop culture, particularly superhero stories, but his traditional father wants him to observe Hindu traditions. The two become melded in Sanjay’s mind, leading to amazing flights of fancy illustrated by exciting, colorful animation with all the polish we have come to expect from Pixar films. The story seems to be more than a little autobiographical, as the director is an Indian-American who grew up to direct animated films, and a title cards informs us that this film is based on “a mostly true story.”

“World of Tomorrow” (17 min.), directed by Don Hertzfeldt, is a gentle science fiction film that uses stick figures and simplified drawings to tell a story about a little girl named Emily (Winona Mae) who lives in a futuristic world where, thanks to cloning, some people get to live more or less forever. Time travel is also a feature of this new world, and a later version of herself (Julia Pott) gives Emily (and us) a tour of how this strange new world works.

“We Can’t Live Without Cosmos” (16 min.), a dialogue-free Russian film written and directed by Konstantin Bronzit, tells the story of two young men training to be cosmonauts. They’re best friends and do everything together, whether it’s running on the treadmill, bouncing on their beds, or reading the book which gives the film its title. One gets to go on a space mission, while the other must remain behind, clutching a picture of his friend, and this and other hints suggest that their relationship may be more than platonic. The cartoon-like style and restricted palette of this film may suggest a kiddie story, but it ends with a mystery that may leave even adults puzzled.

“Prologue” (6 min.), directed by Richard Williams, is an homage to hand-drawn animation. It begins with a title sequence of an artist drawing a title card with pencils, then cuts to another hand drawing that comes to life. The hand-drawn style continues as the film tells a story, using only visuals and ambient sounds, from the wars between Sparta and Athens. “Prologue” is not suitable for children due to graphic violence (lots of blood and corpses) and male frontal nudity, and will be presented at the end of the program, following a warning card alerting parents to remove their children from the auditorium if they desire.

The Short HD program also includes four films not nominated for an Oscar, and which were not available for screening. These are “If I Was God,” “The Short Story of a Fox and A Mouse,” “The Loneliest Spotlight,” and “Catch It.” | Sarah Boslaugh

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