Once upon a time, only select audiences had the opportunity to view the various short films that were up for Oscar consideration. Now though, these movies are available to (almost) everyone thanks to Shorts HD and Magnolia, which have teamed up annually to distribute all fifteen nominees in three separate categories -- Animation, Documentary and Live-Action -- theaters (starting January 31) and via VOD (starting February 25). (Visit the official site for more details.) Here are short reviews this year's short films -- starting with Animation -- along with our picks for which will win and which should win.
A textbook example of form trumping content, this striking film boasts gorgeous animation in service of a thin story. Discovered in the woods by a hunter, a young boy who has grown up as part of a wolf pack is suddenly re-introduced into civilization and, as you might imagine, the transition does not go especially well. Clocking in a swift 12 minutes, Feral doesn't have the time necessary to tackle this narrative in any real depth and its central "nature vs. nurture" thematic conceit is all too superficial. The impressionistic images, on the other hand, are ravishing, often resembling charcoal sketches come to vivid life. The result is a film that consistently engages your eyes, though not your mind.
Get a Horse!
If you've seen Frozen (and, judging by that movie's extraordinary box office, you obviously have) then you already know how delightful Mickey Mouse's long-awaited return to the big-screen is. Paying loving homage to the Mouse House's signature rodent's past while also bringing him into the present day Purple Rose of Cairo-style, Get a Horse! is a riotous blend of hand-drawn and computer animation and packs more laughs and "Wow" moments into six minutes than the following feature does in 90. Of course, it doesn't have Idina Menzel belting "Let It Go"…
A reclusive tinkerer who resembles a walking egg timer opens him home to a mechanical dog… at least until RoboMutt grows a little too big for his surroundings. As steampunk-influenced animations go, Mr. Hublot is strictly second-tier from both a design and story standpoint, particularly when placed alongside superior works like the anime feature Steamboy and the Australian short The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello, which was up for (and lost) this same award back in 2006 alongside Shane Acker's original 9 short. It's not bad, but it's also the most forgettable of the nominees.
I mean it as a compliment when I say that Shuhei Morita's short feels like a deleted scene from Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away. While passing through the woods one rainy evening, a lone traveler takes refuge in an isolated shrine, only to discover that he's sharing the place with a gaggle of spirits who use their powers to bring a variety of ordinary objects -- including umbrellas and cloth -- to life. (In fact, the frog-like umbrella creature is a visual cousin of the amphibious bathhouse worker that Chihiro encounters in Spirited Away.) Like the best Studio Ghibli efforts, Possessionsis whimsical and imaginative, while also telling a complete, resonant story.
Room on the Broom
A pack of famous British actors (among them Sally Hawkins, Simon Pegg, Rob Brydon and Gillian Anderson… who isn't technically British, but clearly wants to be) lend their voices to this computer-animated adaptation of an illustrated children's book about a too-friendly witch and the various animals she allows to ride on her broom, much to the consternation of her constant feline companion. The film is gentle, relentlessly positive and -- at almost 30 minutes -- tedious in the extreme. It's only appropriate that it's based on a bedtime story, because it'll put anyone watching right to sleep.
Will Win: Get a Horse!
It's the film most voters will have seen thanks to Frozen and it gives a faded Hollywood icon the comeback he deserves. And if there's one thing Oscar loves, it's a comeback kid.
Should Win: Get a Horse!
While my natural inclination is to root for an independent animator over a corporate monolith, Get a Horse! offers the best mix of story and cartoon spectacle out of all the nominated films. Possessions would be a very close second, though.
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