Oscar’s animated shorts touch the heart

Posted March 2, 2016


In what is being heralded by some as an artistic era marked by a decline in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ critical ability to judge motion pictures, one of the most competitive and diverse lineups in recent Oscars history has been presented. Fun quizzes or games that make readers predict award winners suddenly turn into a tough challenge when this year’s lineup of animation shorts is in question.

Five animated short films, each less than 18 minutes long, grace select theaters this winter for a limited time. These five shorts come from four separate continents, with only two American nominations, and each touched the hearts of the small group of people in a tiny theater in Miami Beach in where they were shown.

The first was “La Historia de un Oso,which is Spanish for “The Story of a Bear.” By far the most decorated of the short film collection, winning more than 20 national and international awards for storyline and animation, this Chilean animated film chronicles the story of a papa bear that lost his family in a human raid.

The bear was kidnapped and forced to work at a circus after his wife and son were killed. It is the most overtly symbolic of the films, with the bear using a diorama type of object to tell his sad story for money to anyone on the street that would listen.

In this case, it was another young bear with his father. The film comes in an important time where many South American circus and tour groups are dying out, but some still remain. With the most technologically modern animation techniques, this film adds a slight, beneath the surface dark undertone of animal abuse in a story that stars anthropomorphized animals.

The shortest and arguably most visually appealing of the short films must be “Prologue”. Visually appealing does not necessarily mean most advanced. Filmmaker Richard Williams had already won an Academy Award for visual effects as well as a Special Achievement Award for animation direction for his 1988 classic “Who Framed Rodger Rabbit”. Almost thirty years later his style remains prominent.

In “Prologue” two Spartan and two Athenian warriors fight to the death on a grassy plain, with a little girl witnessing the whole event. The pure genius of this movie stems from its painstaking simplicity and ease of viewing.

The six-minute film with no dialogue took years to make, as it was all pencil sketched (with the exception of the first five seconds of live action where Williams’ hand touches paper and begins to draw). With only grey pencil streaks on white paper, the warriors’ blood seems to be a bolder red than we’ve ever seen in an IMAX movie.

A diverse, powerful and high quality animation lineup would not be complete without the titan Pixar. Once again it delivers, and word around the Internet seems to indicate that they have won the popularity vote. Renowned Indian-American filmmaker Sanjay Patel makes things personal while also highlighting the essential cultural and familial conflicts presented by modern globalization.

In his “Sanjay’s Super Team,a young Sanjay spends endless hours glued to a loud television watching an American superhero cartoon trio fight evil and save the day. On the other side of the living room is his father, a devout Hindu, who tries to practice his faith quietly and tries to get his son to join him, but to no avail.

A Pixar-esque imagination trip leads him to see the resemblance between his father’s devotion and his. The film accomplishes just as much for a child viewer as it does for their parents. This holds true across borders, cultures and generations, making this short film the one with some of the strongest, most enjoyable, and relatable themes.

The Russian short film “We Can’t Live Without Cosmos,” according to many viewers and critics, seems to be the least likely to win the award among the rest. Nevertheless, it remains the most heartwarming and is my personal favorite. In this emotional roller coaster, two astronauts in an intensive training camp make their way through their incredibly demanding job by effortlessly jumping through hoops.

While everyone else fails at one particular task or another, these two friends manage to make it without breaking by just being goofy between jobs. Everyone else at the training site (other trainees and scientists) is too serious or competitive for his or her own good. The two stars survive by having a laugh or two (or 10!), effectively making any audience chuckle at the nostalgia of immature and happy friendships.

The hardest to write, follow on screen, and even review is beyond a doubt the American dystopian film “World of Tomorrow.” Using stick figure drawings and psychedelic animated backgrounds, filmmaker Don Hertzfeldt tells the story of a little girl called Emily.

Emily is visited by clone of herself from 227 years in the future, and then takes her on a time and space-bending trip into the distant future to describe the human race’s bitter destiny in an era where technologies have advanced simply too much.

To add a sealing dystopian and borderline nihilistic theme to a story of a little girl who hasn’t learned to speak in full sentences yet, future Emily tells her how she does not feel anything in the future, in fact no one does. In a strive toward perfection, all the humanity is lost, and eventually so are emotions.

Daringly, maybe too daringly, it seems that more science fiction and literary themes are stuffed into this 16-minute animated psychedelic than many feature length movie franchises are. In simplest terms, the film seems to do (or at least say) too much. It is the only movie on this list with any spoken words, and no moment of silence is spared.

One undeniable fact, however, is that a viewer will not have a moment of boredom while watching, as it is impossible for almost any ears and eyes to veer from the screen when “World of Tomorrow is played”. Maybe that is why it is regarded as the critics’ bet for this year’s winner.

Astounding visual, thematic and cultural diversity is what separates these short animations from the rest of the academy’s selected films. Animation continues to develop with technology, but from what this year’s lineup tells us, emotions do not.

  • “Oscar Nominated Animated Shorts”
  • (Collective) Release Date: Jan. 29, 2016
  • Now Showing: Miami Beach Cinemathique, AMC Sunset Place.
  • Ticket Cost: $11.00
  • Rating: No MPAA rating. All are suitable for children (no profanity, violence, sexuality, nudity, etc.) with the exception of Prologue, which includes some violence and nudity.