2017 Oscar Nominated Animated Shorts Breakdown Review

The Academy Awards are this Sunday, and as such it is fitting to take a look at one of the more overlooked categories: Best Animated Short Film. While the favorite to win is clearly Piper, although the short film categories always have a chance to hold an upset, it still is warranted to put a spotlight on all five films.

 

Borrowed Time

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Borrowed Time is perhaps the least realized film out of the five nominees. However, it is pertinent not to compare the shorts with each other (if you want to know predictions for the category, follow the rabbit hole accordingly). With this being the first short shown during the animated shorts showcase, this is not hard to do.

The film makes great use of cross-cutting. The temporally split short is a Western pastiche telling a heart-breaking story of a father and a son.

While this story does not run deep—we get what’s on screen and that is the narrative. Luckily what is included on screen includes some intriguing pieces of mise-en-scene that further the story beyond what is merely told between the father and the son.

The narrative also uses an interesting rhyming structure to bridge the gap between past and present. It works effectively even if it doesn’t enable the story any.

Visually, the film is great. In terms of lighting and depth of field effects, the landscape of the desert cliff feels real enough for pixels.

Borrowed Time may not be incredibly nuanced or groundbreaking, but it serves its purpose with a perfectly acceptable blend of animation and story talent.

 

Pearl

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Conceived through Google as a VR experience, Pearl is a film that uses the technology of the day to tell a story of a life and a father-daughter relationship.

It is the story of a car, cut elliptically with graphic matches and the slamming of a door. It is smartly efficient narratively, if not overly blocky in animation style.

The film is limited by its technology as much as it is enhanced by it. In a theater, you will not experience the 360 experience, which is part and parcel to its immersive experience. But you will receive the lesser animation. It is not animation that takes you out of the brilliant experience, but it is noticeably lacking in a category determined by animation. A pixelated grain assures audiences that the film was not truly meant for the big screen.

What the film does to make up for its animation is absolutely nail its tone. The narrative effectively tugs at heartstrings with appeals to family and aging. I am not a father nor a daughter, but seeing this wordless narration about a father-daughter relationship got to me the first time I saw it (admittedly, the first time I saw it was in a VR experience and not in a flat theater, but still).

The narrative progression and beautiful song that the narrative is a music video for makes Pearl a wonderful short worth seeing.

 

Blind Vaysha

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Blind Vaysha is a fablesque (is that a word? Probably not, but who are you to judge?) tale told in superb hand drawn animation. It is, indeed, a narratively ambitious short.

The film might lack the advanced rendering techniques of the 3D-animated Oscar nominees, but the temporally split narrative of Blind Vaysha is something fantastical and glorious.

“In Vaysha’s eyes, she could not live in the present.”

Those well-put words represent both the literal and moralistic center of the short. Vaysha is born blind, sort of. In her left eye, she sees only the past. In her right eye, she sees only the future. Never can she see the present.

The film loses some of its ground by breaking the fourth wall and directly stating its theme, but this message still holds weight in an Aesopian way. Losing sight of the present is to walk blindly through the world. It’s perfectly simple, literalized in a beautiful fashion, and widely applicable.

Blind Vaysha is a create fable put to animation. It has rough edges, both in terms of its drawings and its moralizing, but the moral itself is otherwise intelligent and wonderfully presented.

 

Piper

To see a full review of Piper, click here.

 

Pear Cider and Cigarettes

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Pearl Cider and Cigarettes is, by far, the longest short in the Academy Award bash. It is also the most mature in terms of subject matter. It is a film that feels autobiographical and intimate, using stream of consciousness and a trailing voiceover that somehow mimics its ailing subject.

The film uses washed out blues and overblown oranges to tell its visual story. Overblown lighting create a haze environment as its subject struggles through addiction and recovery. It is a highly stylized aesthetic, but for the story it’s telling it works perfectly.

The themes of the film may nothing to write home about, as it has all been seen before, but there is a maturity to the pacing and narrative drive that keeps Pearl Cider and Cigarettes feeling fresh and new.

 

As always, thanks for reading!

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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)

 

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