The Austin Chronicle

2017 Oscar-Nominated Short Films: Animation

Not rated, 90 min. Directed by Various.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Feb. 10, 2017

As befits their nominations for an Academy Award in the field of animation, the five chosen short films all boast some excellence in whichever style of animation – CG, woodcut, traditional cel – and storytelling they employ. All are representative of animators working at the top of their short-form game, and to a one they’re engrossing and frequently emotionally affecting. Fans of outrageous, OG Spike and Mike type humor – where Austinite and Beavis and Butt-Head/King of the Hill creator Mike Judge got his start – probably won’t find much here to their liking. But hey, this is the Oscars, not the Alamo Drafthouse, and Frog Baseball predates the internet, digital animation, and probably many current animators’ birth dates. That said, this is a solid bunch of shorts, each engrossing in its own distinct style and tone.

Andrew Coats and Lou Hamou-Lhadj’s seven-minute-long “Borrowed Time” features a battered old CG sheriff in the American West coming to terms with, for want of a better term, cowboy PTSD stemming from his reckless youth. Coats and Hamou-Lhadj have day gigs at Pixar and it shows both in the attention to crusty cowpoke minutiae and the film’s emotional heft.

”Pearl,” directed by Patrick Osborne, manages to cram in a whole lifetime’s worth of father-daughter love and well-busked music in general in a brief six minutes. Something of a tearjerker, the alt-rock leitmotif by Nicki Bluhm and Kelley Stoltz makes this one feel like an exceptionally well done music video – and for all I know, it is – but there’s no denying it’s catchy as hell both lyrically and visually.

Bulgarian-born Canadian animator Theodore Ushev uses near-monochrome woodcut to tell the story of “Blind Vaysha,” a young girl who can see only the past in her left eye and only the future in her right. Based on a short story by Georgi Gospodinov, this is the headiest of the nominees this year, posing questions about the self, selflessness, and the struggle to exist in the moment. Alas, it was shot in 3-D and VR, something this reviewer could not experience.

At 35 minutes, “Pear Cider and Cigarettes” is far longer than any nominated animated short film in recent memory. It’s also decidedly adult in nature, complete with cussing, boozing, and drug use. Director Robert Valley, in his first short film, relates what may or may not be the autobiographical story of Techno Stypes, a former hipster-cum-daredevil, who’s currently down and out and badly in need of a liver transplant in modern-day China. Marrying a gritty, film noir-esque narration with some seriously evocative imagery, this is by far the most ambitious of the five films.

Pixar’s predictably adorable “Piper” rounds out the quintet and is director Alan Barillaro’s debut short, which fronted this past summer’s Finding Dory. A sandpiper mother teaches her hatchling how to dig for clams on the shoreline while seemingly gigantic waves rush in and continually chase the li’l guy back to the nest. As with the vast majority of Pixar shorts, this one is guaranteed to make you go “Awwwww.”

[Editor's note: All the shorts in this program are family friendly, except for the last one, "Pear Cider and Cigarettes." Prior to its screening, a warning card will appear, should you and your progeny need to exit the theatre.]

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