2018 Oscar-Nominated Short Films: Animation
2018, NR, 83 min. Directed by Various.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Feb. 9, 2018
Commandment No. 1 of Academy Award-nominated short film was, is, and always shall remain “expect the unexpected.” And in no other category does this fiat hold faster and appear more judiciously than in the field of animation where, as ever, anything goes. That includes a rapturous ode to the sport of "Dear Basketball," written by Kobe Bryant and directed by Disney master animator Glen Keane (The Little Mermaid). Combining traditional animation, both charcoal and pencil, with Bryant’s narration, this is a moving, slam-dunk portrait of the 18-time NBA All-Star’s passion for and eventual departure from the game.
A sextet of directors helm the French offering "Garden Party," a preposterously detailed CGI comic opera involving a hungry frog, a quick-thinking salamander, a deserted mansion, and more than a touch of Sunset Boulevard. It’s my pick for the best out of the five shorts.
It wouldn’t be a normal Oscar free-for-all if Pixar didn’t show up with something to tug on your heartstrings. This year it’s director Dave Mullins’ "Lou," which played in front of (and was frankly much better than) Cars 3. The titular schoolyard bully is taught the error of his ways via the usual, emotionally hefty Pixar magic.
France returns with directors Max Porter and Ru Kuwahata’s dreamy, Jan Švankmajer-influenced "Negative Space." Stop-motion animation, papier-mâché, and Wes Andersonian detail add up to a fanciful yet somber musing on the nature of fathers and sons, the past, the present, and the unknowable future. Très Francaise.
Finally there’s UK fairy tale foible "Revolting Rhymes" which at 30 minutes is the lengthiest of the nominated shorts. It is in fact one half of a BBC couplet based on original writing by the great Roald Dahl (James and the Giant Peach, etc). Directors Jakob Schuh and Jan Lachauer use soft-edged CGI in a Dahlian mash-up of "Cinderella," "Jack and the Beanstalk," "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," "Goldilocks," and of course "Little Red Riding Hood" and multiple lupine agitators. The premise is terrific, but the overstuffed storyline, while reminiscent of The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show’s "Fractured Fairy Tales"’ often wonderfully nihilistic take on all things Grimm, is too much by half and perhaps better viewed in its entirety on Netflix, where it is currently available.
All five of these Oscar-nominated shorts screen as part of this program, along with three titles not nominated: "Lost Property Office," "Weeds," and "Achoo."