Oscar-Nominated Short Films 2014: Animation
2014, NR, 102 min. Directed by Various.
REVIEWED By Louis Black, Fri., Feb. 7, 2014
Animated programs are often hit-and-miss affairs, as are most collections of shorts. Often, if they are made up of 10 or 12 shorter films (averaging six or seven minutes each), they can be overwhelming. This year’s Oscar-nominated animated shorts mostly run longer than 10 minutes, making for a more involving program. Each of the films is expansively stylized, boasting – to no one’s surprise – superior, ambitious animation.“Possessions,” by Shuhei Morita, is based on a legend in which tools and inanimate objects gain souls after a century. The film is a richly detailed evocation of all kinds of Japanese symbolism and ritual. A journeyman worker comes upon a small cabin in the wilderness. Seeking shelter within, he encounters a “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” fever dream of multiplying objects engaging in Busby Berkeley dance numbers. Visually magnificent, "Possessions" is an explosion of colors and action that drenches the senses.
Told with more muted tones, yet somehow more stylized and impressionistic, is “Feral” by Daniel Sousa. The film tells a story about a wild child who is found in the forest by a hunter and brought back to civilization. His introduction into a school environment goes about as well as might be expected.
”Mr. Hublot,” by Laurent Witz and Alexandre Espigares, is a futuristic fantasy about a genial robotic world where inhabitants, houses, and transportation are constructed out of pieces from the most richly imagined Industrial Age junkyard. The title character somehow adopts a (robot) dog, bringing a genuine warmth to this elaborate mechanical world.
“Room on the Broom,” by Max Lang and Jan Lachauer, tells the most classic kind of animated fairy tale about a witch and her cat. They end up picking up any number of hitchhikers on their broom, much to the feline’s dismay. Charmingly clever, it also features the voices of Simon Pegg and Gillian Anderson.
The most startling and exciting of the films is Disney’s remarkable “Get a Horse!” by Lauren MacMullan. Starring Mickey and Minnie Mouse, along with Clarabelle Cow and Horace Horsecollar, it begins as a remarkably faithful Thirties-ish Disney cartoon in which the main characters on a hayride are confronted by the evil Peg-Leg Pete driving a road-hogging jalopy. Pete, eyeing Minnie lustfully, soon kidnaps her. The film then rips apart its flat, two-dimensional, black-and-white surface, exploding in every direction as the stars mutate into colorful, three-dimensional, CGI characters. It’s reminiscent, to some extent, of the mind-boggling Warner Bros. postmodernist, animated masterworks like “Duck Amuck.” With much love and even more imagination, this cartoon (the shortest of the bunch) literally tears it up. It violates rules of space, time, and traditional narrative structure as it becomes a joyous anarchistic celebration of animation and Disney’s history while also exploring the form’s potential.
The program also includes three “highly commendable” shorts: “A La Francaise,” “The Missing Scarf,” and “The Blue Umbrella,” which were not available to screen.