Oscar-Nominated Animated Short Films 2014

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All five nominees in the animated category are visually stunning, and also quite different from each other, so that the program never feels repetitive.

 

When it comes to the Oscars, feature films get most of the press, but film fans know that the short films categories often contain hidden treasures that just don’t get the notice their more glamorous feature-length brethren take for granted. But you don’t have to be a slave to the publicity machines—thanks to the theatrical release of the five nominees (or more properly, the five finalists) for animated and live action shorts, you can watch them yourself and decide which you think is best.

All five nominees in the animated category are visually stunning, and also quite different from each other, so that the program never feels repetitive. As is often the case with animated films, the art often takes precedence over the story, but that’s not true for Daniel Sousa’s “Feral” (12 min.), which is my pick of the lot. It tells the story of a feral child plucked out of the only world he knows and brought to a village to be raised like the other children. Uniquely among the nominees this year, “Feral” pays its audience two compliments: it doesn’t spell everything out, and it doesn’t confine itself to a naturalistic narrative; both choices are well-supported by distinctive, pseudo-primitive art. That’s why I love “Feral” (I like a little mystery with my art), but I suspect it will be a bit too much for the Oscar voters, who I predict will choose “Mr. Hublot” (reviewed below) but, as they say, that’s what makes horse races.

For sheer visual delight, it’s hard to think of a film topping Shuhei Morita’s “Possessions” (14 min.), especially if you’re a fan of Japanese ghost stories and/or manga and anime set in rural Japan. The story concerns an itinerant fix-it man who takes shelter in an isolated shrine, only to discover that it is haunted by Tsukumogami, discarded possession that have acquired souls and the ability to trick living humans. The stylized animation by Sunrise Interactive retains the best qualities of drawn art without remaining confined to the flat plane, and the combination of realistic and supernatural elements in the story is fully realized in this exuberant and inventive film.

Fans of steampunk will love Laurent Witz and Alexandre Espigares’ stylish “Mr. Hublot” (11 min.). The titular character is a withdrawn fellow who surrounds himself with old things—typewriters and card catalogues and grandfather clocks—while doing his best to avoid the outside world and all its noisy modern annoyances. Of course, you need conflict to make a film, so his world is invaded by a companion who simply won’t be denied. The strong point of this film is its visual universe, which is based on the work of Belgian sculptor Stéphane Halleux and gloriously mashes up the Victorian and futurist worlds.

The animation in Jan Lachauer and Max Lang’s “Room on the Broom” (25 min.), already shown on British TV over the winter holidays in 2012, is also amazing. However, this is a film clearly meant for young children, and adults may find it slow going, even while appreciating its essential sweetness. “Room on the Broom,” based on a picture book by Julia Donaldson, tells an Aesop-like story about a friendly but absent-minded witch, a faithful but selfish cat, and a number of other characters that join them over the course of their adventures. The animation by Magic Light Pictures (they also did the 2011-animated short “The Gruffalo” and the 2010 Oscar-nominated animated feature Chico and Rita) places smooth 3D characters (that look kind of like animated chew toys, to tell the truth) in a 2D landscape, and the characters are voiced by an all-star cast including Simon Pegg, Gillian Anderson, Timothy Spall and Sally Hawkins.

The fifth nominee is “Get a Horse!” from Walt Disney Studios, and is recognizable to anyone who has seen megahit Frozen as the short film that runs before the feature. | Sarah Boslaugh

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