The Oscar race captures my attention more often than not, but for the next three days, I’d like to offer my personal thoughts on the shorts recognized by the motion-picture academy for 2013.
Today begins with animation, a field often recognized by the industry as too childish or simple, but several of the shorts recognized prove that great storytelling can come from drawings and computer animation. Tomorrow will feature my thoughts on the live-action shorts; Wednesday will conclude with my review of the documentary shorts. Oscar musings will return on Thursday.
Simple yet complicated, Feral stands apart from the other shorts as the most perplexing entry but perhaps, also, the most socially relevant in a world where some folks are still considered uncivilized and, well, feral because of who they are.
At the center of this short is a boy who lives in the woods – outside of a supposedly civilized society. His behaviors remind us of the wolf more than they do of a human being. It’s safe to say, things go less than smoothly when a man brings him into the “civilized” world.
The boy’s skin begins to change in relation to his circumstances, but he refuses to let his skin become something entirely different. (God, it’s easy to project onto Feral a queer interpretation, isn’t it?) We understand the boy as an enigma who cannot comfortably exist in either the woods or “civilization.”
A challenging yet captivating watch from directors Daniel Sousa and Dan Golden, the lack of dialogue allows for the short – especially its strange, heartbreaking conclusion – to resonate more loudly than some of the more conventional nominees.
Get a Horse!
Get a Horse! plays before likely animated feature film victor Frozen, so I imagine most of you have seen it. But in case you haven’t, the short centers on Mickey Mouse’s plight to rescue Minnie Mouse from Peg-Leg Pete.
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? More than anything else, the been-there-done-that story presents a fascinating look at the evolution of animation and screen media in general without being preachy or, frankly, even informative. It’s fun and engaging – even if an audience member’s multiple complaints about nachos take us out the fun and far into meta territory.
With Horse, directors Lauren MacMullan and Dorothy McKim play with the medium of animation simply for the sake of making its audience laugh. It easily stands apart as the most technically impressive, and it’s charming in its own right.
Mr. Hublot centers on a lonely man living in a world of steampunk splendor, where technology allows people to fly and robots take on the likenesses and characteristics of animals. Our protagonist takes into his home a stranded robot dog, named Robot Pet in official synopses, after hearing its cries for affection, but letting someone new into his life isn’t as easy as one might think: Mr. Hublot has obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and as anyone who’s ever had a pet knows, Robot Pet changes his way of life.
We never hear Mr. Hublot or anyone else speak, but directors Laurent Witz and Alexandre Espigares allow for gorgeously lit shots, a delightful soundtrack, and close-ups on the intricately constructed faces of Mr. Hublot and Robot Pet to tell this simple yet charming tale of welcoming a positive change even when it terrifies us.
Possessions sees a man seeking refuge from a storm in a rundown shrine. But the shrine houses goblin spirits with which this man must contend in order to stay the night.
Maybe it’s just not my cup of tea, but Possessions, from director Shuhei Morita did little for me. I understand its overall message – you make triumphs out of your trials, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, etc. – but the impeccable blend of CGI and hand-drawn animation was the only standout aspect as far as I’m concerned.
Room on the Broom
Simon Pegg narrates Room on the Broom, in which a witch, voiced by Gillian Anderson, lets a dog, a bird, and a frog – in addition to her obstinate cat – tag along with her as she flies on her broom. But the broom gets too heavy (the title, everyone). Oh, and there’s also a dragon to worry about.
Room is the most simplistic of the nominated shorts, and while that makes it easy to understand, nothing here challenges conventions of filmmaking or storytelling. However, directors Max Lang and Jan Lachauer tell an admirable story of friendship in a nice-enough way (though Hublot does it better).
The starry voice cast works nicely, and Room showcases once again that supporting actress nominee Sally Hawkins, who voices the bird, can do no wrong.
Shorts HD and Magnolia Pictures released the Oscar-nominated shorts in theaters on Jan. 31. On Feb. 25 they hit VOD. Check here for times and locations – other shorts might be included in various presentations.