Every day until the Oscars ceremony we’ll be highlighting a different category or movie here on the LAMB! Here’s a link to all the posts written so far:
Today, Bubbawheat of Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights is here to look at the nominees for Best Animated Short.
Almost more than superhero movies, this is something that I have come to look forward to every year since I started writing about this category first in 2013, then regularly since 2017. I love animation and the short film format is a great way to see experimental and unusual short films, along with typically the best from Pixar who almost always gets a nomination. It’s often a great mix of foreign and independent filmmakers and this year is no exception. While the previous two years I have enjoyed making it to the theaters to watch the Shorts TV theatrical presentation of all the animated short films, this year made it a little more difficult for me to get to the theater, and it was also more difficult to watch them all at home. That’s partly why this post is coming out at the last minute as there were only 3 available to stream online until today when the Shorts TV released their streaming collection that included the other 2 nominees as well as the live action shorts and one more of the animated shorts.
If Anything Happens I Love You
This was the most poignant of all of the short films as it dealt with the all too real subject of school shootings with the backdrop of a home that’s been abruptly silenced in the aftermath of one of these events. The story is uniquely told through the use of shadows that are a mix of repressed feelings and emotions and possibly the ghost of their lost child. There’s no dialogue outside of the lyrics of the song 1950. The animators create a stark contrast between the silent, black and white reality of the two parents while their happy memories bring some color and joy before revealing the shocking truth of what happens as the events take place out of chronological order and the actual shooting is fully revealed towards the end of the short. It has the potential to be the most powerful of the nominated shorts with the combination of the strong subject and unique storytelling.
Burrow is this year’s Pixar Nominee as part of their Sparkshorts program. It’s a more traditional short film that feels like it could have been made 40 years ago aside from the adorably warm visual detail of the animals and all their burrows. And yet, it also feels like it was absolutely made in 2020. When you get down to it, it’s a story about introversion and seclusion as well as feelings of inadequacy and the need to ask for help. The basic story is a rabbit who is trying to build his simple little burrow until his neighbors pop in with their much more elaborate burrows. Embarrassed, he tries to seclude himself by literally burrowing deeper underground comically intruding on dozens of other underground denizens before getting himself in too deep. It’s a cute message and one that’s rather timely as many people have secluded themselves in their own homes during the past year.
This is one of the more comedic of this year’s short films as it basically takes a slice of life in an apartment complex filled with various different types of people. It’s a semi-silent film where the characters do all speak, but the only spoken word is Já (pronounced “yow”, which is Icelandic for “yes”). The word is used in many different contexts from the ya-ya-ya that many people do while talking on the phone to the yes-meaning-no at the sound of a badly played recorder to the overtly sexual YES that’s heard throughout the apartment building to comedic effect. And even though it’s a very lighthearted short, there are touches of darker backgrounds to some of the residents, some of them are more overt like the unhappy housewife and her secret bottle of liquor and a slight tremor. Others are more subtle like the overweight husband who has his own secret cookies in his drawer at work or the teenager who is falling asleep during his test from staying up playing video games, but the darkness is always in the background and overshadowed by the humor. The animation style itself is an endearing CGI with simple-yet-realistic looking backgrounds that give the whole thing a very stop-motion feel to it. There’s nothing too groundbreaking about this film, but it’s a solid and entertaining entry.
This is a more technical piece of animation from director Erick Oh and a group of independent animators who worked together to create this stunning and massively scaled animation of a pyramid filled with details. It’s something that’s difficult to fully take in on a single viewing. There are dozens of rooms in this pyramid and the activities are generally looping so that wherever you look, there’s something going on. Looking back at is as a whole, there’s a definite message of the tedium and repetition of modern life and the destructive nature of a war-happy/capitalist society. The narrative structure is difficult to take in all at once, but it’s fascinating to behold and manages to be evocative without a clear and focused narrative.
This French animation is the most abstract work in the series as it follows the main character Reine who views the world in a unique way. The watercolors and bold lines that morph into different shapes and patters reminiscent of the works of Picasso can be difficult to make sense of. It’s likely to be reminiscent of some type of mental disorder or drug trip but the short offers no explanation within its 16 minute run time despite being the longest of the entries. Three men morph into a minotaur before calling her a “bitch”, a woman with groceries spontaneously combusts and refuses the apple she dropped which vibrates and Reine answers like a phone. There’s a constant sense of distraction and disassociation as the people and texts surrounding Reine ask her if she’s listening to them, and during one of the more lucid moments, Reine begins to ask the woman she’s speaking to to repeat what she said before the lucidity is lost and the narrative devolves into the most surreal moment where Reine turns into a dog. The visuals are quite beautiful, but the message is somewhat lost unless you already have a clear sense of what type of mental disorder or drug induced state Reine is going through before watching the film.
There’s often a recurring theme in the animated short film nominees each year and this year there seems to be a common thread of confusion and a lost sense of place. Quite fitting considering the year that we’ve just gone through. It’s a tough call on which is the likely winner, as it’s a bit of a toss up between the feel-good throwback of Burrow and the powerful statement from If Anything Happens I Love You. I know I would personally like to see the statement win, but as movies are often thought of as escapism, I wouldn’t begrudge the throwback a win this year either.