A Short Look Into the Oscars Shorts
By Edoardo Mazzini
The 95th Academy Awards have concluded with very little controversy and more importantly completely slap-less, with most viewers satisfied to at least some degree. I wish to however bring attention to them once again to give a bit more well deserved space to one of the least talked about categories, that of Best Animated Short Film. Short films can be both a fundamental starting point for directors, screenwriters, animators and actors, as well as a chance to handle particular themes or precise ideas that would ́t fit in longer format. Let us then make them justice and talk about all the candidates from the category, the good, the bad, the winner and those deserving of more attention!
Disclaimer: there are minor spoilers for the shorts in question, although we have been careful not to give too much away so that you may be inspired by the article to go and watch them yourselves!
The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse (2022) by Peter Baynton and Charlie Mackesy uses a classic children book illustrations style of animation to bring to life a Aesop-type fable about acceptance and making weaknesses into strengths through teamwork. A child lost in the forest comes into contact with three talking animals, each representing a different dichotomy of character: calm and hospitable, but cowardly; prideful and aggressive, but independent; and fierce and fearless, but lonely, respectively. The interaction between the four brings out a growth in each one of them, closing the short on the classic moral of finding strength in community and mutual acceptance. Clearly directed much more towards smaller children, it brings home the Academy Award thanks to its simple, positive message and its universal appeal. I must however underline how unoriginal, unchallenging and overall uninspired the whole production feels. It is most definitely not a bad work, and the animators deserve their praises for the technical work, yet it is impossible to shake off the thought that it received the prize on the simple basis of its completely neutral nature, and for appealing to the lowest common denominator in taste. If there is a short amongst all the one discussed in this article that may warrant skipping over, this is sadly certainly the one.
The Flying Sailor (2022) by Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby recounts the almost unbelievable real story of Charlie Mayers, a sailor that during the Halifax Explosion in 1917 was thrown a distance of about 2 kilometers by the blast, and miraculously survived. The short utilizes a bizarre mixed animation style to match the absurdity of the story itself, bringing together fragmented storytelling with a visual voyage between small gags, free associations and nonsense, while always keeping an absolutely serrated pace. This results in what is most definitely a visual, auditory and conceptual experience, equally confusing and intriguing. It does however lack the depth to be more impactful, or, to be overly critical, to even do justice to the original event. Still, it is so short and so visually interesting that if falls straight into the “sure, why not” category.
Ice Merchants (2022) by Joao Gonzalez is a simple story of family and everyday struggle set in an alternate, yet familiar universe. A father and child live in a house attached to a vertical cliff, where they “cultivate” ice blocks, which they then parachute to the village below to sell them. Their struggle to get over the loss of the mother of the family and to cope with a warming environment that endangers their livelihood take center-stage in the short until disaster strikes, concluding the production with a tense, action packed but also heartfelt ending. While the strength of its story or moral alone may not be enough to call it groundbreaking, the art style and quality of animation are both outstanding, transforming a solid setup into a wonderful immersive experience. The short ends up not only being a treat for the eyes, but the uniqueness of the drawings and seamless animations elevate the perception of fundamental physical elements of the narration, in a clear case where the style does indeed elevate the substance. A certain “must watch”. My Year of Dicks (2022) by Sara Gunnarsdóttir is the irreverent tale of a teenager on a quest to lose her virginity. Using the framework of chapters in a diary it tells a number of small stories, encounters and relationships, all portrayed in different animation styles, making it a visual symphony really worth seeking out. The protagonist goes from infatuation to infatuation, exploring the overdone high school stereotypes of the jock, the nerd, the skater, the metal head and such with fresh and original takes, supported by a visual diversity that enhances the narration and helps moving away from cliches. The visual aspect is however not the only remarkable part of the short, as the humor lands pretty much at every point, making the whole vision challenging, relatable and genuinely funny. Another case of a short that must have been truly in contention for the prize, and may very well have deserved it. An Ostrich Told Me The World is Fake and I Believe It (2022) by Lachlan Pendragon is my personal pick for Best Animated Short, and it is honestly quite a bit ahead of any other candidates. It tells the story of a struggling office worker, a cog in the machine type, that realizes in multiple ways that he is irremediably stuck in his position, in work, in life, and possibly even in existence. First of all, the short is realized with stop motion animation, and very good one at that, making it immediately an extremely remarkable artistic feat, as the medium requires enormous amounts of time and effort to function as well as it does. Additionally, the stop motion is even mixed with live action shots, skyrocketing the amount of technical work that had to be done to make this short possible. What is however even more interesting and impressing is that it dabbles in themes such as the mind numbing sameness of routine, conformity and the replaceability of modern workers, challenging the perception both of the characters and the viewers and delivering a tense, ironic, intelligent little story that deserves much more attention, from the public and from the Academy themselves. Ultimately, the selection this year was quite fantastic, with most shorts deserving of a watch and generally offering a wide range of themes, visual styles and tones, so what are you waiting for? You should just watch them all, it will take you a little less than two hours and then you will be able to boast with to your friend that you are a real cinema snob! What else are you going to spend those hours on, an “Avatar” film? James Cameron clearly has enough money to not know what to do with it, so go support smaller projects and smaller creators and let them take you on a number of interesting miniature adventures, some of which you may never forget! Edoardo Mazzini is based in Munich. He runs a horror film club. Contact him at email@example.com