This year’s batch of Best Animated Short nominees is noticeably trying to push boundaries for animation as a medium.
Even with varied results, that’s still an exciting concept. Animators are taking advantage of new tools and technologies, or re-designing existing styles to fit different types of stories. Even the short about the cute little baby bird is still impressive in its technical photorealism. I’m happy once again to be able to celebrate (and in some cases denigrate) this forward thinking and hope it leads to a new era of animation innovation.
Borrowed Time: (official site) – We’re actually starting off with the best of the bunch this time, because I really want to celebrate what this film is doing. Directors Andrew Coats and Lou Hamou-Lhadj are Pixar animators who made this film in their spare time over the past five years using the resources available at their office. Their goal was to experiment with the traditional Pixar house style and toolset, attempting to further develop the kinds of stories that can be told successfully using that model.
They succeed greatly on all counts. Without the happy-ending confines of a typical Pixar film, Borrowed Time tells the story of an aging wild-west Sheriff who has returned to the scene of his greatest childhood failure, presumably to commit suicide. Flashing back through two different time periods in the Sheriff’s life, the film packs an unexpected emotional wallop and a pretty impressive action sequence into its brief runtime. Pixar films tend to be heavy on the melodrama, but this short is the first one to venture into genuine, Manchester By The Sea-levels of emotional bleakness. (With similar themes, as well.) It’s to the director’s credit that the Pixar super-cartoony style doesn’t take away from any of the impact, and actually works to the film’s advantage. Borrowed Time sets out to explore the use of animation as a storytelling medium; and it achieves this with flying colors. (10/10) USA, 7 minutes, Dirs: Andrew Coats and Lou Hamou-Lhadj
Pearl: From a storytelling innovation to a technological one, Pearl blurs the line of traditional filmwatching, as the first animated short meant to be viewed on a VR headset device. (If you don’t own such a device, you can watch the entire film on YouTube here, and use control devices inside the viewer to explore the film in 360 degrees, like a video game.) Set entirely within a car, the short tells the story of a father and young girl who grow up and grow old in a five minute montage, set to an extremely catchy acoustic folk song.
What’s interesting about Pearl is the way the medium impacts the storytelling. Upon my initial viewing, in 2D without movement in my screener copy, I was put off by the short’s lack of emotional pull. I compared it to a very sweet but obnoxiously twee Subaru commercial which goes on way too long – and it still basically is. But the second viewing, from the YouTube link posted above, allowed me to explore the interior of the car and see the changes in the surface, really delivering a new level of complexity to basic mise-en-scene, and can see the emotional intrigue growing stronger from that. I imagine it has the best effect when filmed in the headset it’s intended for Still, I stand by my original assessment. The short’s manufactured emotion and ugly character designs make it hard to love, but what it’s doing for the animation medium is undeniably intriguing. (7/10) USA, 6 minutes, dir. Patrick Osborne
HOLY SHIT LOOK AT THIS CUTE LITTLE THING.
LOOK AT ITS CHUBBY LITTLE BELLY
OH MY GOD IT’S FRIENDS WITH A LITTLE CRAB I CAN’T TAKE IT.
AHHHHH GIVE IT THE OSCAR FOR CUDDLINESS.
(9/10) USA, 6 minutes, dir. Alan Barillaro
Blind Vaysha: (clip)
Here once again we have to ask what I call the Revenant question: Does technical achievement and difficulty level outweigh general storytelling quality? Animated in a “linocut” style (similar to wood cutting, but with linoleum as the base) the short uses between 12,000 and 13,000 drawings filmed over six months to present the POV of a Vaysha, a young woman for whom the present does not exist. Her left eye sees only the past, her right eye sees into the future. This manifests itself in a few clever ways’ we see the building and destruction of cities, the birth and death of animals, men come in as both young children and geriatrics. But there’s not much story here. A narrator presents the fable and over-explains the concept, before turning the tables around on the audience and asking them if they live in the present. It’s a lot of effort to put into what is essentially a “Yesterday is history tomorrow is a mystery” post on your aunt’s Facebook wall. I do appreciate the visually-distinctive style and the films unashamed ugliness at times, but there’s not much else here to recommend. (6/10), Canada, 8 minutes, Dir: Theodore Ushev
Pear Cider and Cigarettes: (trailer) The longest and most adult-oriented of the nominees, Pear Cider and Cigarettes is not your typical Oscar-crowd fare, and that may be why I liked it so much. Animator and graphic novelist Robert Valley, best known for his work on Gorillaz music videos and MTV’s Aeon Flux, tells a personal story about a longtime friend with the great name Techno Stypes, whose reckless nature and self-destructive behavior leaves him in a Chinese hospital waiting for a new liver – if he can stop drinking with the old one.
Drawing hard from Soderbergh and Hunter S. Thompson, Valley draws us into Tycho’s world, portraying him as an unrepentant piece of shit but also clarifying the appeal of being friends with him. The story is enrapturing and the narration entrancing, but some audience members may be thrown off by how little actual animation there is. It’s more along the lines of “motion comics,” essentially a series of Photoshop drawings with specific moving elements and slight camera shifts – similar to the work Valley’s done with Gorillaz. At the same time, it’s undeniably slick and smooth, and though the material may get a little long, the short is still so refreshing and unusual that it deserves a level of recognition. (8/10), Canada/UK, 35 minutes, Wri/Dir: Robert ValleyLiked This? Share It!