[THE 2017 OSCAR NOMINATED ANIMATED SHORT FILMS opens in Cleveland on Friday February 10th exclusively at the Capitol Theatre, in Oberlin at the Apollo Theatre, and in Akron at The Nightlight Cinema.]
Review by Bob Ignizio
When the first Oscar for animated short film was awarded at the 5th Academy Awards in 1932, short form animation was a standard part of the moviegoing experience. Warner Brothers, Disney, MGM, Max Fleischer, and others were all churning out multiple cartoons a year to play on the big screen. But as animation has increasingly migrated to television, the animated theatrical short has all but disappeared.
Still, there are enough of the things being made and shown today to keep this category alive, if just barely. Some are mainstream fare, playing in multiplexes alongside animated feature films from Disney, Pixar, and others. Others are edgy and/or arty, aimed at the more mature filmgoers who attend arthouse theaters like Cleveland's own Cinematheque and Cedar Lee. Both strains are represented in this year's nominees. My thoughts on each follow.
Two Pixar animators team up to do a little something of their own with the short "Borrowed Time". It's a western in which an old, regret-filled Sheriff remembers an accident he was involved in, and feels responsible for, many years ago. He's on the edge of falling into despair, but just maybe there's some small thing that can pull him back from the abyss.
"Borrowed Time" looks like what you'd expect a short by two guys who worked at Pixar to create. It's a little darker and more philosophically grown-up than that studio's offerings, but still family-friendly enough that your kids can watch. A respectable debut for this team, at the very least.
Former Disney/Pixar animator Patrick Osborne (he previously took home an Oscar for directing Pixar's "Feast") does a slightly more grown-up piece (I'm sensing a theme here) with "Pearl". It's the story of a father/daughter relationship played out as music video, showing the expected ups and downs of such a relationship, and the way certain things get passed on through generations, sometimes whether we like it or not. The animation looks like it uses traditional techniques like rotoscoping and paint on cels, but there's obviously some computer assistance used as well. It's a bit cloying, but I imagine many viewers will connect with it.
The art style used in "Blind Vaysha" reminds me of the crayon scratch off art I used to do in grade school, in a cool way. Directed by Bulgarian born Peter Ushev, this Canadian short is a fairy tale about a girl born with an unusual affliction. Her right eye only sees the past, and her left eye only sees the future. Unable to see the present, she is rendered blind for all intents and purposes. The message isn't hard to pick up on, but it isn't heavy-handed, either.
"Pear Cider and Cigarettes"
If you've ever had a friend who was a complete self-destructive fuck up, and yet was incredibly fun to be around, you'll relate to "Pear Cider and Cigarettes". I certainly did. It's a morbidly enthralling wallow in the depths as the short's narrator tells the story of his friendship with Techno, a text book example of the sort I mentioned in my first sentence, from first meeting until Techno's inevitable pathetic demise.
The short was directed by Robert Valley, who did character design work for the Gorillaz music videos and TRON animated series. There's humor, pathos, and insight into the human condition presented in a hip, distinctive style that obviously owes more than a little to Japanese anime, but is still undeniably western. The cool rock soundtrack adds to the effect. It's the longest of the nominated shorts, but it's well worth the investment of a half an hour of your time.
This is the short most likely to have been seen by the average moviegoer prior to this program, having been shown before Disney/Pixar's FINDING DORY in theaters. It's a typically well done, clever toon from the Pixar folks. Not their best, but it's a cute crowd pleaser about a baby seabird who learns a new way to get food and shares it with his fellow foul.
3 of the shorts ("Piper", "Borrowed Time", "Pearl") are very firmly planted in the middle of the road. Their agreeable enough, but I doubt I'll remember much about them by the time next year's nominees roll around. "Blind Vaysha" is the most edgy and artsy of the bunch, while still remaining accessible enough that the average viewer should be able to enjoy and "get" it. The winner for me, though, is "Pear Cider and Cigarettes". It has a distinctive, if still traditionally rooted, animation style, and for me it boasts what is the most compelling story.
The program includes three other, non-nominated shorts: "The Head Vanishes", "Asteria", and "Happy End". These were not available for me to screen, but based on trailers I found online they look intriguing. "Asteria" appears to be an CGI tale of space exploration, "The Head Vanishes" an odd story of an old woman visiting the seaside, and "Happy Endings" a black comedy in which a drunk tractor driver runs someone over. It's hard to give a true star rating to the program without seeing these three films, but based on the nominees alone I'd say any fan of animation would want to check it out. Call it: 3 out of 4 stars.