Saturday 9 February 2013

Watch and Discuss: Oscar Nominated Animated Short Films

The Oscars are almost here, the 85th annual Academy Awards ceremony will take place two weeks from tomorrow, on Sunday 24th February, and it's almost time to start fielding predictions. But, before that, it certainly helps to be well informed: as we are A113Animation, obviously, one of the main awards at the Oscars for us is the Best Animated Feature one; however, often overlooked is the Best Animated Short Film prize. So, given that the Oscar nominated shorts are now all available in their entirety online, I thought it time to offer up my thoughts on the offerings, and get yours.

2012 was a banner year for animation, and that is in no way limited to feature animation, as evident by this very strong batch of shorts. 2011 brought great shorts like The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, I Tawt I Taw a Puddy Tat, and La Luna if you're in the film festival circuit, and 2012 was just as impressive. Let's discuss shall we?

Adam and Dog - Director Minkyu Lee:

Paperman may be more and more the favourite to win, but Adam and Dog is its greatest competition. This sweet, serene and utterly beautiful short film was written and directed by Minkyu Lee, a Disney animator, and animated by a group including Pixar's Austin Madison and DreamWorks' James Baxter. The small, tight-knit team sensibility is evident by the short's charming animation and warm heart; it's a great story of the endearing loyalty of (first) man's best friend, and definitely one of the best animated shorts in recent years.

Adam and Dog first made waves last year when it won the Annie Award for Best Animated Short Subject - beating Pixar's hotly tipped La Luna - but has been quiet since then - until now. The short's associate producer, Heidi Jo Gilbert, kindly allowed me to watch the short via a secure link a couple of weeks ago, but it's now been uploaded onto YouTube (via Cartoon Brew) so all can enjoy it - and it surely doesn't hurt its Oscar chances.

Fresh Guacamole - Director PES:

Definitely the shortest of this year's short film nominees (at just over a minute and a half), PES's very witty and very fun stop-motion short represents how far film has advanced that an online short is in the running for such a prestigious award. Fresh Guacamole is definitely this year's most creative short film and what exactly gave PES the idea for it, I'll never know.

However, great though it is, I've a feeling Fresh Guacamole is too short and too simple to pose a serious threat to this year's big hitters - particularly when so many of them tell such powerful stories and have such intricate animation. Nonetheless, a great honour to be nominated, and we know how the Academy love to surprise us.

Head Over Heels - Director Timothy Reckart:

Uploaded onto the web yesterday (via Cartoon Brew), this is the first time I've watched Head Over Heels, and I am very, very impressed. What previously was a complete unknown to me now seems to be a major competitor for the coveted award. It's a heartfelt, touching and deeply symbolic story about love and how people can drift apart if they're not careful - literally in this case. The short takes full advantage of its magnificent medium with the clever stop-motion and a very intricate and well thought out story.

Created in coordination with the UK National Film and Television School, director Timothy Reckart has already received a lot of praise for the short, garnering nominations everywhere from the Edinburgh International Film Festival to last week's Annie Awards (where it won Best Student Film). The high production value and touching story means it's not too much of a stretch to imagine it overcoming the "Student Film" classification and taking home the Oscar.

The Longest Daycare - Gracie Films/Film Roman/20th Century Fox; Director David Silverman:

The first Simpsons short film in over two decades, The Longest Daycare, directed by David Silverman, who helmed The Simpsons Movie and some of the show's best episodes (The Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire, Bart the General), is proof that The Simpsons can still be funny and original, even after such a long run. UPDATE - 19/02/2013, 20:30 (GMT): The short seems to have been removed from that source; check it out here.

The short follows Maggie's continued adventures at the Ayn Rand School for Tots (which she previously visited in A Streetcar Named Marge) and also stars the monobrowed Baby Gerald. In the vein of classic short films, and indeed of its fellow nominees, The Longest Daycare features no dialogue, relying on its great characters, clever story and physical comedy to entertain - which it most certainly does. The short has acquired significant acclaim, particularly given its proximity to Ice Age: Continental Drift, - which received a far less enthusiastic response - with The New York Times' A.O. Scott calling it "a four-and-a-half-minute dialogue-free delight" and "witty and touching and marvelously concise". So, it has a decent chance at the Oscars - though I suspect they'll lean towards the more serious, thought-provoking shorts, but it sure would be great to see The Simpsons win an Oscar...

Paperman - Walt Disney Animation Studios; Director John Kahrs:

The frontrunner, Disney's massively acclaimed Paperman, directed by Tangled animation supervisor John Kahrs, has received a lot of hype over the past few months, and deserves every jot of it. UK fans got the chance finally see it on the big screens yesterday, with the eventual release of Wreck-It Ralph (which was also worth the wait - review soon), although the short showed up online last week, to equally enthusiastic responses.

An urban fairytale in glorious black and white, with a beautiful score by Christophe Beck, and, hopefully, representing a new dawn for hand drawn animation at Disney with its groundbreaking Meander animation software, Paperman is an absolute wonder to behold. The story genuinely makes you care and feel about these characters, in just 6 minutes, as very few feature films manage to do in 90, and if that's not suitable criteria for an Oscar, I'm not sure what is. The short won Best Animated Short Subject at the Annies last week, which surely can't hurt its chances heading into the Academy Awards on the 24th.


Okay, so, what's going to win? Firstly, there were some very high quality shorts that didn't make the cut: Aardman's So You Want to be a Pirate!, Birdbox's Wildebeest, the Snowman sequel The Snowman and the Snowdog, so, the shorts who are nominated should take a great deal of pride in the fact that they've got this far. But personally, I think it'll be Adam and Dog that wins it, but - while I adored Adam and Dog, and while it'd be a most deserving winner - I think Paperman deserves it. Disney Animation has been Oscar-less in recent years, and 2012 was most definitely their year - in terms of feature and short animation - and it'd be great to see the home of animation take home a couple of Oscars again.

But that's just me, what about you? Which of these 5 animated short films do you think should win this year's Oscar? Discuss below!

If you're interested in offering up your feature animation Oscar predictions, head on over to Munir's Oscar breakdown and predictions.

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