Oscar Nominated Animated Shorts (2015)

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Movie a Day Blog was beginning to despair about this year’s nominees for the Best Animated Short Academy Award until the final entry came along.

A SINGLE LIFE (2014, Theatrical) was in my estimation the most innovative and effective of all the cartoons I watched. It’s less than two and a half minutes long,¬† a combination of CGI and stop motion animation, and it knocked my cinematic socks off.

The three Dutch filmmakers, who wrote, directed, produced and animated the film essentially by themselves, supposedly thought up the idea on a drunken night in college, but Marieke Blaauw, Joris Oprins and Job Roggeveen sobered up enough to make SINGLE LIFE surprising, right up to date technologically, and for me, at least, irresistible.

But I doubt it will win. The minute I saw THE DAM KEEPER (2014, Theatrical), I knew its sentimental tale of a despised dirty blue-collar Pig and a saintly Fox who arrives, solely, it seems, to befriend him, would be a strong contender.¬† The theme of bullying is prominent, as is loyalty and friendship, all current concerns. THE DAM KEEPER isn’t saccharine, but I knew exactly where it was going about five minutes into its overlong 18-minute length.

THE DAM KEEPER is just the kind of animation most of the Academy members who are not animators find accessible; A SINGLE LIFE is probably  just too weird for them. The only downside of the Academy now distributing screeners of all nominated short films, documentaries and foreign-language films to its entire membership is the lowest common denominator prevails, which will benefit THE DAM KEEPER.

I was also quite taken with the entry from the most reliable Oscar animation supplier, the National Film Board of Canada. ME AND MY MOULTON (2014, Theatrical), by a Torill Kove, a Norwegian animator working, like so many foreign cartoonists have for the past 60 years, in Canada. It’s a drolly written and narrated story of a teenage girl and her unconventional parents, and it felt fresh and honest in a way now lost in American narration that’s drowned in irony.

Kove has a beautiful 1950s aesthetic — I loved his houses and trees with their extravagant green leaves, and the story has a nice payoff to an entertaining build. It doesn’t stand a chance.

If THE DAM KEEPER doesn’t snag the Oscar, the other likely winner is, no surprise, the nominee from Walt Disney Animation, the most revitalized animation studio in Hollywood, with the success of FROZEN (2013, Movie a Day 1/2/14) and WRECK IT RALPH (2012).

FEAST (2014, Theatrical) is a technically accomplished standard Disney-length cartoon (it was released with BIG HERO 6 (2014)) about a voracious dog, who will eat anything and everything set before or near him. There is a subplot of his largely unseen owner’s love life that never caught my attention or interest; it seems an overly conscious homage to LADY AND THE TRAMP (1955), a Disney feature I grew up with and loved.

While the lead pooch, a terrier mutt, is appealing and, in the Disney tradition, full of characterization, FEAST lives up to its title: it seemed to consist of nothing but constant consumption. Is that a political statement about consumer capitalism? Coming from Disney, I doubt it: consumer capitalism is its life blood.

If I had to guess, the battle for the Best Animated Short Oscar will be a toss-up between THE DAM KEEPER and FEAST. I may teach animation history, but for the past several years, my taste has differed from Academy voters in this category. Given my predilection for A SINGLE LIFE, it probably will again.

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