2023 Oscar Nominated Shorts – Animation
For the second year in a row, the nominated short documentaries don’t include a Disney/Pixar selection, but this year does include a nominee from the U.S., one that one wonders might have been nominated just to hear the title read aloud at awards shows (the film is, indeed, worthy, but caused a bit of snickering when the nominations were announced by Riz Ahmed and Alison Williams in January). Australia gives the U.S. a run for its money in the funny title category while vying with the UK for its length and Canadian and Portuguese entries find their protagonists in unusually dangerous situations.
Laura's Review: B+
An Ostrich Told Me the World Is Fake and I Think I Believe Him
It is clear that Australian stop motion animator Lachlan Pendragon is a fan of Aardman, as his Meta comedy plays something like Wallace in the Twilight Zone. We see Neil, a telemarketer selling toasters, within the confines of a monitor, a time code running in the upper left hand corner, human hands working busily in a flurry fast motion in the background, working the models we are seeing on the monitor. After being warned that he may be fired if his sales numbers don’t increase, Neil stays later than everyone else in the cubicle farm. But when he goes to leave for the night, he finds an ostrich in the elevator, one who tells him nothing in his world is real. Invited to look behind a door, Neil drops into a tray holding various incarnations of his own face. Of course, when he tells a coworker what happened the next day, he is unable to recreate his experience, but his new awareness of his non-reality leads to an amusing conclusion. “An Ostrich Told Me the World Is Fake and I Think I Believe Him” is part of Pendragon’s film studies towards a doctorate in visual arts and if this is a sampling, I cannot wait for more. A-
Portuguese animator João Gonzalez won the Jury Prize for Best Short Film at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival and it is easy to see why. This one is my favorite of the bunch, a bizarre yet moving father/son story animated with incredible style, its use of color particularly striking. From a home attached high upon a mountainside with ropes and pulleys where a thermometer records subzero temperatures, a man and his young boy make ice. The man then clutches his boy to his chest and dives off a platform, releasing a parasail and floating into the town below where, despite bringing ‘coals to Newcastle,’ manage to sell their wares. After each journey, they buy new caps to replace the ones which have flown off during their descent. Then spring arrives, an avalanche threatens their home and the man must take a serious risk after the backpack containing his sail tumbles off the platform. Gonzalez conveys a lot with simple lines, many vertical, and a select group of colors – red, blue, a rusty mustard yellow and white – and no dialogue. A
My Year of Dicks
Sara Gunnarsdóttir directs this adaptation of her memoir by Pamela Ribon in which her fifteen year-old self is determined to lose her virginity. Gunnarsdóttir employs a variety of animation techniques, from a hand drawn style with a rotoscoping vibe to anime, more abstract sequences featuring men shaded in blue and women in red. Fortunately for humor’s sake, Pam’s options are dicey, from the skateboarder who shows up at her house after she’s told him her parents won’t be home with an entire party’s worth of friends to her romantic ideal, Rodrigo, who just wants to have sex. We’re treated to an animated snippet of the X-rated “Henry & June” which Pam is watching on video as her dad pounds on her bedroom door. Things don’t go much better when she confides in her mom, who, instead of valuing the trust, flips out and runs to her husband whose advice is truly cringe worthy. The film concludes with a beautifully suggestive image and hope for our heroine. B+
The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse
This adaptation of author and illustrator Charles McKay’s book about friendship and loyalty across diverse barriers would be easier to embrace if it wasn’t so beholden to A.A. Milne in story and ‘The Snowman’ in style. This UK entry directed by Peter Baynton (2D animation director, “Paddington 2”) and McKay opens on the same, soft, snow-covered landscape so memorable from the beloved Christmas animation before a mole in a blue sweater burrows out of the snow and mistakes a large tree for a cake. The mole, which looks and sounds like a cross between Pooh and Piglet, is advised of his mistake by a young boy who looks like Christopher Robbin. When asked what he wants to be when he grows up, the boy responds ‘Kind.’ The mole clearly takes this to heart because after the two, who spend the night up in one of the tree’s branches, are threatened by a fox below them, when they find that same fox in a trap later the next day, the mole releases it. A white horse, animated to almost magically appear from behind the white birches obscuring it, completes the quartet, who become fast and loyal friends despite their differences. Animation in long shot is enchanting, reverting to characters defined with harsher, harder lines in close-up. B
The Flying Sailor
Canada’s entry is based on an amazing true account of a sailor who was thrown two kilometers through the air and survived the 1917 Halifax explosion when two ships, one laden with high explosives, collided in its harbor, a disaster resulting in almost 1,800 deaths. Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby, previously nominated in this category for ‘Wild Life,’ imagine what that man experienced, sending him right out into the cosmos and back again to the hill where he landed in his birthday suit. Despite the tragedy, Forbis and Tilby find some humor in the situation, the sailor landing with a cigarette he lit as the ships collided still jutting from the corner of his mouth, his expression now quite dazed. Various images, such as a gasping fish and bottle of booze rolling on the wooden pier, are repeated, juxtaposed with what appear to be photographic imagery. “The Flying Sailor” is a uniquely conceived idea, inventively executed. B+
Robin's Review: B+
An Ostrich Told Me the World is Fake and I Think I Believe It
Telemarketer Neil must sell more toasters or lose his job, Then, he has a brief encounter with a talking Ostrich who tells him the world is fake in “An Ostrich Told Me the World is Fake and I Think I Believe It.”
So, what did the ostrich tell Neil? I will give you a clue – the world is not as it seems. It is, in fact, a stop-motion animation and he must warn his colleagues of what is to come,
The father and son live in a cottage tenuously attached high up the side of a mountain. Every day, they parachute from the great height to sell the ice they produce. That is, until things change for the “Ice Merchants.”
This is a very subtle and loving animation that is, at its center, the story about a family and loss. But, that loss turns to hope in a very clever way.
This could be titled “Confessions of a Teenage Girl” (a bit more tasteful that “My Year of Dicks”) with its frank assessment by 16-year old Pam on losing her virginity. The mission takes a year to accomplish and it is about the fantasy of romance and the reality of first sex. I would not want to be a teen girl (or boy, for that matter) and have to face all those decisions – I did not like it then and doubt if I would, now.
The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse
Think “The Snowman (1982)” as you watch this 34-minute Oscar-entry for animated short film. If you remember that lovely, earlier short film, as I do, you would see the two animations have a similar look of graceful, ethereal animation. But, more importantly, both stories are about love and caring. With “The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse,” you also have a story about friends as family and the bond that forms between our four new friends.
The Flying Sailor
If you never heard of The Great Halifax Explosion of 1944, then “The Flying Sailor” will likely not tell you that story. What it does do, with its meditation of a disaster, is to prompt me to delve into that deadly incident during WWII. It is based on that real big bang as seen through the eyes of a sailor at the center of the explosion who lived through and survived his incredible journey.
Shorts.tv releases the 2023 Oscar Nominated Animation Shorts in theaters on 2/17/23.