Since I recently did a write-up on this year’s nominees for Best Live Action Short Film, it only makes sense that I also do one for its animation counterpart! Honestly, although I tend to enjoy the animated shorts more than the live action ones, this year’s nominees were, disappointingly, a bit of a mixed bag. But I’ll expand more on each one down below!
Animator Glen Keane teamed up with pro basketball player Kobe Bryant (formerly of the Los Angeles Lakers) to create a short non-narrative about Bryant’s lifelong love of the sport and his inevitable departure from it. Indeed, this is based off of an open letter written by Bryant back in 2015 when he announced his retirement, and he even provides the narration. Taken at face value, this is pretty gentle and loving, a tone that owes much to the calming nature that Keane’s hand-drawn style often employs. I’m sure this short means a whole lot to folks who are in love with the basketball; however, the fact that this was able to move me despite my general apathy towards sports as a whole shows that this film does its job well. Inevitably, though, given that Bryant’s name is attached to this, it does come off a bit like a blatant advertisement for the Lakers and the NBA as a whole (I’m pretty annoyed that this has anything to do with Bryant at all, for reasons I won’t get into here). Despite these mild displeasures, though, it’s charming and impressively understated… as long as you pretend it isn’t completely Kobe Bryant-centered.
I really don’t know what to make of this one!! The most impressive aspect of Garden Party is definitely its animation. France has definitely fostered a reputation for some pretty interesting, impressive animation work and it definition shows here. The textures of these computer graphics are breathtaking, especially intriguing with how they capture the vivid sliminess of all the amphibians. What doesn’t win me over, however, is the narrative itself. Most of the short consists of frogs and toads navigating this empty mansion, partaking in its abandoned food and deserted rooms. There is an air of mystery that hangs over the entire short, which makes for some pretty compelling storytelling in its own right. But for the most part, it’s all just kind of boring, going from one scene to the next without anything particularly interesting happening. It isn’t until the end when a sudden, jarring image fills the screen, ending the story with an unusual moment of real-life gruesomeness. While I get what the team were going for, I didn’t think it made for a very good payoff and was mostly just unpleasant. All in all, this should probably only be watched by hardcore animation buffs.
At this point, it’s pretty much unheard of for Disney and/or Pixar to not have a film nominated in this category (the last time this happened was 2009!). This year, their nominated film was the one that preceded Cars 3, and I never got around to it until very recently because… well, Cars 3. In general, though, Pixar’s shorts have been lacking as of late, so I didn’t have high hopes for this one. Surprisingly, I actually found it to be pretty cute, given the tools it was working with. It’s a short little tale about an anthropomorphic pile of lost-and-found items teaching a playground bully about the treasures of empathy. It sounds unusual, but it actually offers a refreshing slice of childhood imagination that has been sorely missing from mainstream animated features lately. The animation itself is pretty middle-of-the-road – if you’ve seen literally any Pixar film with a child character, you know what to expect on that front. These writers have these shorts down to a formula and this follows it pretty much to a tee,with no real surprises here. Still, it’s sweet, colorful, and bubbly enough for kids, all while going down smoothly for adults as well. Not bad.
And now for another short animated film from France, this one is a much more different style than Garden Party. For the most part, there doesn’t seem to be very much going on – through some pretty inventive stop-motion animation, the protagonist how much of the bonding that occurred between him and his often-estranged father was with the latter teaching him how to strategically pack a suitcase. As I mentioned, even though this only runs about six minutes in length, there are still some pretty lovely, eye-catching uses of stop-motion that budding filmmakers should definitely be taking as an example. Eventually, the narrative ends on a pretty dark turn that takes its motif of negative space to a much more macabre place. Usually I would be all over an ending like this, but I somehow found myself just thinking, “… and?”, which is disappointing since I’m sure it would be a much more interesting film had it been a tad longer. Pretty ironic, considering that concept of never taking free space for granted is highly emphasized through this short – in my opinion, it could have benefited from being a little baggier.
And now for an opinion for which I am almost certainly in the minority. I guess my general dislike of Revolting Rhymes is partially due to my unfamiliarity with its source material, written by Roald Dahl and illustrated by Quentin Blake. I read a lot of Dahl’s works as a kid, but this one just managed to slip away from me (I guess I was too busy reading The Stinky Cheese Man?). As such, I watched this film just as face value, and while I can see the appeal of this film for children in seeing their favorite nursery rhymes subverted and strung together so cleverly, I found myself bewilderingly bored. Magic Light Studios has put out some relatively fun work in the past, but most of what I’ve watched from them have been pretty middle-ground. This one definitely has the most generic animation of them all, and not even the characters and their various misadventures kept me compelled through its half-hour run time. Once again, I know I’m in the minority and I’m sure children might find this fun – but it just didn’t do anything for me.
The easy answer to the question of who will win the Oscar for this category this year is, unsurprisingly, Lou. Disney have snagged the most awards in the category and Pixar shorts have become a 21st century staple of pleasant, family-friendly short entertainment. Nonetheless, the Best Animated Short Film category has also been known to award some of the most beautifully out-of-left-field shorts of the past ten years or so, including The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore and La Maison en Petits Cubes. As such, while there aren’t any entries this year that are particularly ground-breaking, I could see Glen Keane winning the Oscar this year for Dear Basketball, especially since it won the same award at the Annies earlier this month. Given that Keane is such a talented animator and would certainly deserve his first Academy Award… well, here’s to hoping!