Oscar's Animated Shorts Come to Town!

Feast, winner of the Oscar for Best Animated Short
The days are getting longer, but the films are getting shorter! Maybe the extra brightness is just the golden sheen of Oscar reflecting off the shorts screening in the Oscar-nominated Animated Shorts package. The top dog here, of course, is the well-deserved winner Feast (Dir. Patrick Osborne; USA, 6 min.), which scored five stars from this blog back when it screened at the Ottawa International Animation Festival. Feast is a worthy winner for the category because it beautifully brings to life the simple concept of people coming together through food with the help of an adorable and beautifully rendered dog named Winston, who grows and acquires more sophisticated taste as the years go on. Feast is one of the best shorts that Disney animation has ever made. As I said back at OIAF:

Feast marks one of Disney’s most significant shorts because of the wondrous animation with which Osborne tells the tale. The film features cutting-edge 3D animation, yet the characters resemble something closer to classical 2D animation, for they have the depth and dimensions afforded to characters by contemporary technology. Winston is an endearing pooch that moves with the lifelike briskness, energy, and spunk of a real dog, but he has the affectionate flair of originality that comes when an animator offers a unique creation instead of trying to emulate the real. The result is a dog who looks and feels more real than a conventional motion-capture simulation. (And Winston is definitely a ‘who’ rather than a ‘that.’) [Read the full 5-star review here.]

Ottawa shorts fans can revisit another OIAF champ when Canadian Screen Award winner Meand My Moulton (Dir. Torill Kove; Canada/Norway, 14 min.) returns to the 613 and brings back its bright storybook colours that pop right off the screen. This offbeat story of the love/hate relationship we have with our parents is charmingly funny but with a dark undertone as the young narrator recalls all the funny things that her parents do—like wear moustaches, act brainy, and exist in general—and humiliate her. This fun fable delights with every viewing. 

Much different from Moulton is the extraordinary The Bigger Picture (Dir. Daisy Jacobs; UK, 8 min.). The Bigger Picture deserves its nomination on craft alone as director Daisy Jacobs and her team fashion an impressively life-sized world. Real objects and practical effects animate a darkly comic tale of growing old. Watching the sets come to life is like hallucinating in one’s own living room, and the scope and ambition of the film is truly awesome and very (delightfully) strange. It’s remarkable to see a film animate the inanimate objects of our everyday lives.

A life goes by very quickly in the brisk and jazzy A Single Life (Dir. Job, Joris & Marieke; The Netherlands, 3 min.), which is the shortest of the shorts. A Single Life is a cute little film as one woman flashes back and forward through time with the help of a magical record player, but its by-the-books 3D animation doesn’t match the range and complexity of its fellow nominees. The slight simplicity of the premise, however, offers a light, enjoyable laugh. It might not be the most groundbreaking film ever to receive an Oscar nomination, but it’s also one of the most enjoyable larks to earn Oscar’s merit. You’re bound to laugh out loud by film’s end.
The Dam Keeper
The Dam Keeper (Dir. Robert Kondo, Daisuke ‘Dice’ Tsutsumi; USA, 18 min.), finally, comes closest to stealing Feast’s title of Best in Show as it moves audiences through a range of emotions. This beautifully composed film is a visual feast as the filmmakers paint a lovely allegory of bullying and friendship through the tale of Pig, who tends the city dam. Pig keeps the darkness at bay by faithfully observing the clockwork of his windmill, but he faces a different darkness daily from the bullies at school. The simple kindness of Fox, a new student in Pig’s class, brings The Dam Keeper to a place of hope and optimism, and Kondo and Tsutsumi warm the film with a wonderfully brighter palette as sunlight flows in to Pig’s day. A powerful emotional turn, however, shows our own capacity to be the bully as an unfair rift divides Pig and Fox and challenges the dam keeper’s duties. Excellent music doubles as a script and provides a lovely emotional drive to accompany the bright and beautiful brushstrokes of the animation as The Dam Keeper builds a larger fable about one’s responsibility to one’s community. The visual wonders of The Dam Keeper make it a standout for evoking such genuine feelings. This superbly nuanced and heartfelt film is a timeless story about how easily anyone can be a bully or, better yet, a friend. It’s a winner.

The Oscar nominated animated shorts screen in Ottawa at The ByTowne from March 20-25.
The screening includes a bonus trio of shorts from the Oscar shortlist.
(You’re in for a treat if Coda or Symphony No. 42 are among them!)