2013 Oscar-Nominated Animated Shorts: From Best to Not-Best

Walt Disney, PapermanEach year since 2009 my wife and I have made a day-long date of visiting Keystone Art Cinema, the only dedicated art-film theater in Indianapolis, to view the big-screen release of the Academy Award nominees for Best Live-Action Short Film and Best Animated Short Film. Results vary each time and aren’t always for all audiences, but we appreciate this opportunity to sample such works and see what the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences deemed worthy of celebrating, whether we agree with their collective opinions or not.

Presented below are my rankings of this year’s five Animated Short Film nominees, from the greatest to the most head-scratching. Unlike last year, all five nominated animated shorts can be viewed online for free…as of today, at least. Links are provided for each, but may be subject to change without notice. Enjoy!

Paperman: You should’ve already seen this in front of Wreck-It Ralph. If you didn’t, it was unique in its use of Disney’s new CG/2-D hybrid system called Meander. The blend worked wondrously, and the meet-cute romance was sweet-hearted.

Timothy Reckart, Head Over HeelsHead Over Heels: The relationship of a longtime married couple has soured so much over the decades, they live in the same house but completely apart — separated by gravity, each walking and abiding on the other’s ceiling in a sort of negotiated Escher-base-level passive-aggressive harmony. This product of a British film school took eleven students fifteen months to complete. Despite their probable youth, their house-divided parable accurately captures the quiet acrimony of couples who refuse to separate, and the fragile negotiations and tentative compromises that can mend what’s broken.

Minkyu Lee, Adam and DogAdam and Dog: Genesis 1:24-25 introduces animals to Earth. Eve’s proper introduction wasn’t until the end of chapter two. In between those two points in time, Minkyu Lee (a Disney animator) chronicles how the relationship between the First Man and the First Man’s Best Friend might have been formed, and how their days may have been spent before Eve’s arrival, which was followed shortly by one very, very bad day. The budding friendship hews more closely to the Bible than the average big-screen product, though some families might take issue with the Scripturally sound portrayal of an Adam who’s naked and unashamed. Though the nudity is depicted in minimalist fashion to avoid outright prurience (if you’ve read Watchmen, think Dave Gibbons’ Dr. Manhattan), parents who hear the word-of-mouth or see promotional stills and think, “Hey, a Disney Bible story!” might want to review the short for themselves and then decide how their family rolls. One particular aspect of the short stood out to me at the end — an important reminder that, despite their sins and transgressions, even in exile the First Couple were still loved.

Maggie Simpson, The Longest DaycareMaggie Simpson in “The Longest Daycare”: Unlike me, you may already have seen this in front of last summer’s Ice Age: Continental Drift, maybe even in 3-D. In five fluffy minutes of silent comedy (presented in glorious, vastly preferable 2-D), Maggie pays another visit to the Ayn Rand School for Tots, last seen in season four’s “A Streetcar Named Marge”, where the uni-browed Baby Gerald looks creepy and murders butterflies. When Maggie bonds with a cute li’l caterpillar, conflict ensues. It’s standard Simpsons fare, nothing less. Best chuckle: a display filled with remaindered Raggedy Ayn Rand dolls, complete with pretentious cigarette holder.

PES, Fresh GuacamoleFresh Guacamole: The shortest nominee in Oscar history is a pretend-cooking lesson for assembling a sculpture shaped like a bowl of guacamole, using objects that resemble real guacamole ingredients but transform into other objects when chopped and diced. If you’re a fan of stop-motion, bad puns, or its creator PES, you may enjoy this oddity more than I did. I had no idea it was following a precedent.

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If you see the theatrical compilation, in years where the shorts aren’t overlong, the running time is usually extended with the inclusion of additional “commendable” shorts, which were among the submissions that missed the final cut. This year’s Commendable selections numbered three, none of which I could find online pro bono on any reputable sites. The provided links are the most appropriate I could discern without spending hours on a bug hunt.

Richard Mans, AbiogenesisAbiogenesis: From New Zealand animator Richard Mans and his company Fuzzy Earth comes an ornate CG spectacle of automated terraforming. On the big screen it was a spectacular demo, if a bit vague in terms of What It All Means.

The Gruffalo's ChildThe Gruffalo’s Child: An adaptation of the British children’s book that was a sequel to a book called The Gruffalo, which in turn was adapted into a 2010 Oscar-nominated short. So this is an adaptation of the sequel to the original, not exactly a sequel to the adaptation of the original, unless the adaptation of the original was faithful and made zero changes, in which case this adaptation of the sequel could serve as a sequel to either the original or its adaptation. Yeah.

If you didn’t see The Gruffalo, the Child holds up as self-contained but loses a lot of impact, as the child struggles to face the fears instilled by dear ol’ Dad as a result of the mental trauma inflicted on him in the original by a fiendish mouse. At nearly half an hour, it’s the longest of all the shorts in this entry, but it and the original would make a cute double feature for your kids if they can handle the leisurely pace.

Dripped, Leo VerrierDripped: A French homage to specific art movements, in which a burglar steals famous paintings, literally consumes them bite by bite, and assumes the style and substance of their very subjects. The more abstract the art, the less cohesive he becomes. It’s good metaphorical fun, with the parental caveat of one brief scene with content equaling that of Adam and Dog.

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