2016 Animated Oscar Nods
by Martin Hafer
Today I went on my annual pilgrimage to see the Oscar-nominated animated films… something I’ve done for almost a decade. Overall, this is sadly one of the weakest groups of nominees I can recall having seen and very few of the films impressed me or made me want to recommend them. I am listing them in the order in which they were shown.
Sanjay’s Super Team
Sanjay is a young Indian boy who dreams that Hindu characters become much like Power Ranger-like beings and defeat the forces of evil with his help. This short film is from Pixar…which pretty much guarantees that it will win the award as it’s the only animated short from a major studio. I say this because in interviews, Oscar nominators have admitted to voting for films simply because they like giant companies like Disney or Pixar…and in recent years, inferior films from them have won while much better independent films have been snubbed. For example, last year’s The Dam Keeper was clearly the best animated short but lost to a Disney film which was more widely seen…but also rather safe and ordinary. If I am right, this will be a really bad year for the category because Sanjay’s Super Team is one of the least interesting short films I have ever seen from Pixar and among my least favorite of the films nominated. I liked that the characters were from India but inclusiveness alone cannot be allowed to overshadow that it’s also a rather shallow and unappealing film. Like all Pixar films, the CGI is top-notch…the story clearly isn’t. In fact, there is practically no story at all and its emotional appeal at the end just seemed contrived and formulaic.
World of Tomorrow
World of Tomorrow is an unusual sci-fi short that begins with a small child, Emily, being contacted by a clone of herself over two hundred years in the future. It seems that many folks living in our future are clones–often second, third or fourth generation clones. And, surprisingly, the adult Emily clone of the future wants to bring young Emily to her time to show her about and muse about life.
As for young Emily, she sounds like a three year-old and seems sweet but oblivious to the importance of all the things her clone tells her about life. So much about the clone’s life is empty and sad…and life in the future sounds that way in general. Even worse, the world apparently is about to end and the Emily clone just wants to see her original self to say goodbye.
The story is a very strange existentialist statement from director Don Hertzfeldt. While the weirdness of this and the stick drawings are all pure Hertzfeldt, the story is far deeper and open to many interpretations. There is much more depth to this than his usual cartoons and it is visually arresting. I originally gave this one an A- when I reviewed it on this website many months ago, but one seeing it again as well as how much better it is than the competition, I raised my grade to A. While I rather doubt it will win, it is my choice for the best of the animated shorts and I would love to see the filmmaker recognized for making something truly unique.
This Chilean film is from Gabriel Osorio Vargas and is the story of a bear who is stolen from his family and forced to perform in the circus. What makes this one so memorable is the way the story is told…as a story within a story that is being told through automatons built by a bear!
The Computer graphics, though very nice, are probably the reason I’d list this as my second favorite of the nominees. It’s nice…but these days I’ve seen quite a few CGI films that are frankly better looking. A lovely film but not quite good enough to earn the Oscar for Best Animated Short in my opinion.
We Can’t Live Without Cosmos
This Russian film is thoroughly enjoyable and done with traditional hand-drawn animation–something too often overlooked in this era of CGI. Like Bear Story it’s told without words, so it can be enjoyed by anyone who likes a good cartoon.
This short is an homage to the Russian cosmonauts who bravely risked their lives in the exploration of space. It specifically focuses on two best friends who work hard and are at the top of their class in the cosmonaut training school. However, as is the case with many of the real-life Russian space explorers, the story is a bit sad…and appropriately so. The ending, however, left me a bit flat.
This was a very unusual nominee at the screening because it was shown last (after the commended shorts) and carried a lengthy warning that children should not stay in the theater to see it. After seeing Prologue, I completely understand and it is not appropriate for children. However, I also think it’s not appropriate to be seen by anyone!
The film is gorgeously animated using pencils and a bit of colored pencil. I loved this style of animation and the film was beautiful…yet I give it a D rating. This is because there is almost no story at all and the film was just god-awful and joyless.
It consists of four people fighting some sort of itsy-bitsy war in ancient times. Like some of these ancient warriors, two of them were naked, but their genitalia didn’t offend me. After all, that is how some of them most likely fought. What bothered me was that there really wasn’t any story…just four guys viciously killing each other…very viciously. There is blood galore as well as a lovely scene near the end when one of them stabs the other to death by plunging a sword into the other guy’s testicles! Or was it his anus…either way, it was just incredibly nasty and gross…and seemingly pointless.
In addition to the five Oscar-nominated films, the screening I saw also included three commended films–supposedly excellent shorts but which were not good enough to receive the nomination. One was awfully good, one was just okay and one was shockingly poor.
If I Was God
This Canadian film by Cordell Barker was actually better than some of the Oscar-nominated films. It was made using various types of animation and I couldn’t tell if it was mostly done through stop-motion or computer generated graphics that were made to look like stop-motion. Regardless, it’s very, very well made and looked impressive.
The story is just a slice of life about a man reminiscing about his life as a boy. In this instance, he’s thinking back to the day when he was to dissect a frog and the way he used fantasy to deal with this. It’s very clever and enjoyable. It’s also the best film featuring frog guts that I think I’ve ever seen. In fact, I’d love to see this story hashed out into some sort of feature length cartoon.
The Short Story About a Fox and a Mouse
This is a very simple story about a fox trying to catch a mouse and the mouse, ultimately saving the fox’s life after the fox decides not to kill the tiny mouse.
The story is extremely scant…and that is the story’s biggest shortcoming. It’s CGI is decent but unremarkable. Without much of a story, it really seems very slight and nothing more. Additionally, the story itself really doesn’t make a lot of sense.
The Loneliest Stoplight
The story is about a traffic light in the middle of nowhere and the life it leads over the years. I am a huge fan of Bill Plympton and this is why this short was such a big disappointment. I have met the man and talked with him about his films…and I even have a nice drawing he made of me….so I am obviously a fan. However, among the several dozen shorts of his that I have seen, this is one of the worst, if not the worst…yet it was inexplicably included in this showing.
Why, exactly, did I dislike it so much? Well, the biggest reason was the quality of the animation. While it looked a bit like Plympton’s work, the artwork looked too hurried and lacked the detail and quality of his other films. Oddly, his oldest films look at least as good as this one…perhaps better. It simply looks hurried…very hastily put together. As for the story, it’s not much better…uninteresting to say the least.
I find this nomination strange…especially since Plympton has made many shorts which easily could have taken an Oscar…and a couple that should have. He’s a brilliant man…so why did they feature one of his weakest films in the special showing of Oscar-nominated shorts?