Oscar-nominated animated shorts have repetitive stories, wild visuals

"Get a Horse!" meshes old Mickey and Minnie with new technology. Credit: Disney
“Get a Horse!” meshes old Mickey and Minnie with new technology.
Credit: Disney

The Oscar-Nominated Short Films: Animation

As with their live action counterparts (this year’s batch is reviewed here), the animated shorts the Oscars fete tend to be distressingly homogenous. Three of the five are slight tales of unlikely friendships, as though that was the only tale that melts hearts. But within that relatively narrow structure lies endless variation. Even when the content is similar, the style is rainbow diverse.

The cutest relationship is the one in the French “Mr. Hublot,” whose title seems to be an homage to Jacques Tati’s beloved M. Hulot. In fact, it has nothing to do with him: The hero is a part-robot humanoid living in a clangy, rusty mechanical metropolis, where even the flowers are made of metal. His lonely life is invaded by a homeless robot puppy, whom he takes in — and bonds with even as he grows more and more enormous. That this distinguished world and look is wasted on a tale that’s simply sweet is galling, but not by much.

Meanwhile, the English “Room on the Broom” crowds a mess of British stars — Rob Brydon, Sally Hawkins, David Walliams — plus ex-pat Gillian Anderson onto the soundtrack of a story about a witch who keeps befriending animals. Simon Pegg narrates in rhymes, and all of the actors help charm their way through a story you’ll never remember seeing, even given the climactic appearance of a dragon.

There’s no cuteness in “Feral,” a Russian number about a boy raised in the woods captured and domesticated by tamed man, with the expected less than successful results. The style is as rough as its animalistic hero, and the palette is monochromatic, and its few colors are so muted to barely be noticeable. It’s got nothing on Francois Truffaut’s “The Wild Child,” with the exception of gorgeous expressionism that escalates into a purely symbolic and striking closer.

By contrast, all the major colors, and many more besides, are all over “Possessions,” from Japan, about a man who winds up in a haunted shack, where he encounters living umbrellas, drawings and other inanimate objects. It’s faintly reminiscent of the late Satoshi Kon (“Paprika”), and while not nearly as trippy, it gets close.

Most of the world has already seen “Get a Horse!” tacked onto the front of the soon-to-be billion-dollar grosser “Frozen.” But it’s worth seeing it again, even without the original 3-D, as it’s a dizzying mesh of two distant eras of animation, with an old black-and-white Mickey cartoon popping out, “Purple Rose of Cairo”-style, through a modern movie screen. Even before it heads into the world of color and smartphones, it’s a delight, with the kind of playful sight gags that only get made when someone’s deliberately trying to be retro.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge


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