This year’s Oscar-nominated animated shorts are a breeze. There’s a fine mix of styles, approaches, topics, and tones to be found among the contenders. Picking a winner may simply be a matter of taste, but it’s a clear choice for this viewer.
Screening in this year’s Oscar-nominated animated shorts program are:
Burrow is this year’s Pixar short among the nominees, altough audiences might not know it outside the credits. I say that point as a compliment. This contender is an original work with sumptuous storybook animation and an engaging story to boot. Burrow delightfully and playfully imagines NIMBYism and suburban sprawl in the animal kingdom. With nary a word, it observes a little rabbit as he tries to make his dream hole. The dream digs are complete with a washroom for disco parties, amid his neighbours’ self-centred development. The film hilariously watches him dig his hole deeper and deeper. The further he distances himself from the herd, the more he learns about connection and community.
Directed by Madeline Sharafian, who previously worked as a story artist on Pixar’s Coco and Onward, delivers cute animals a-plenty. As the little bunny burrows, this short gives the critters extra flavour. Burrow has an energizing madcap spirit rooted in the drive of the best screwball comedies. This is one of this humorous affairs in which the cast keeps growing and the stakes increase with each addition. Forgoing the usual spherical blobs that are the Pixar brand, Sharafian’s film has a lovely handcrafted design that suits the bunny’s travails. Burrow boasts a promising new talent in animation.
Erick Oh’s Opera complements Burrow rather well by navigating a vertical plane. However, this nominee is one of massive scale, which is its virtue as much as its failing. Opera is as huge animated fresco that imagines the machinery of an opera house. There’s the upstairs and the downstairs, the public audience, and the world outside. The film offers a single long take that captures the frenzy of action in and around the opera house. People scurry backstage, in the audience, in the lobby, and outdoors. Oh’s gigantic canvas invites a viewer to select bits and pieces of action to observe and become hypnotized by the hall’s mechanical ballet.
The sheer scale of the project, unfortunately, rends many of the details minute. When one examines a Hieronymus Bosch work, for example, one spends unrestricted time scanning the canvas. One can take it all in, which isn’t quite the same with Opera in a single viewing. There’s no opportunity to connect emotionally, particular if one watches Opera without the benefit of a cinema-sized screen. The whirring action is admirably mechanical, but sprockets and cogs don’t offer a compelling story. Opera is like watching an algorithmic screensaver at times. The workers in the opera house could easily be flying toasters from such a far view. The film’s size eclipses its power, although its scale and ambition impress.
Another admirably ambitious work among the Oscar nominated animated shorts is Genius Loci. This work by Adrien Mérigeau, who previously worked backgrounds and art on the Oscar nominees The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea, is a brilliantly abstract study of urban alienation. Genius Loci follows a young woman named Reine as she confronts a whirlwind of emotions. She provokes her anxieties towards motherhood, her feelings for another woman, and her sense of self-exile within the busy metropolis.
Mérigeau offers a striking canvas that is rich in shapes and textures. Shapes merge and melt in Genius Loci to transport viewers through varying shifts in consciousness and emotional states. The film strikingly conveys Reine’s complex psychology, in part by challenging audiences to piece the puzzle together themselves. One puts oneself in Reine’s headspace while navigating her fragmented sense of self. Genius Loci is a rich character study and astute, aesthetically pleasing fusion of form and content, substance and style.
A breezy laugh ripples throughout Yes-People from Icelandic director Gísli Darri Halldórsson. This fun film is the lightest of the Oscar nominated animated shorts, and perhaps the slightest. But it’s a welcome burst of comedy in a mostly bleak award season. The film features an apartment of lumpy, oddly shaped humans (a favourite trend of the animation branch, it seems) as they go about their days. Finding a comedic spark in simplicity, the characters say only one word: “yes.” Sometimes they utter it in the affirmative. Other times, it might be to reassure themselves. It could be a sarcastic aside. Even a few orgasmic yesses punctate the film with riotous exclamation marks.
Yes-People is proof that less can be more. But while the film lacks the grandeur and look-what-I-did density of, say, Opera, it delivers on all fronts. Halldórsson has a great sense of humour and an eye for human frailty. The film finds little details that connect us, and unites the audience with a shared laugh.
If Anything Happens, I Love You
I’m willing to throw down all my chips and bet on If Anything Happens, I Love You as the winner of the Oscar nominated animated shorts. It’s a surprising and deeply moving film with remarkable emotional complexity. Written and directed by Will McCormack and Michael Govier, the film delicately brings audiences into a home shattered by a profound sense of loss. There is not a word spoken in If Anything Happens, I Love You, yet the minimalist animation, like watercolour paintings realised by teardrops falling on a canvas, unfolds a moving essay on grief.
The film goes beyond the personal devastation that the parents experience. It remarkably conveys the collective loss a community and nation suffers with each violent tragedy that ripples through America. The film also avoids sensationalism while confronting the epidemic of mass shootings that claim too many young lives across the USA. Deftly blending art and advocacy, this film is an emotional plea for peace. It’s a call to action for an end to senseless violence. As it puts a viewer through the wringer, making one endure the parents’ pain and utter helplessness in the situation, it leaves one further devastated in trying to imagine how this grief feels outside of film and in real life. It’s a masterful standout in a strong field.