Salute Your Shorts: Animated

The older I get, it’s like less folks around me give a shit about the Oscars. And, I mean, I kinda get it. But, still, every year, there I am: watching the nods roll out, gauging the buzz, scrambling to see everything.

It’s easy to forget the short films exist. They barely play in theaters and their pre-Oscars package is super short-lived, shown only on a few screens. Unless you vote for the Academy, I’m gonna guess you don’t know shit about this (or any) year’s shorts. If so, stick with me! Here I’ll take you through each nominee, and give you my gut reaction after. And because they’re shorts, I’ll keep it quick.

Sanjay’s Super Team (USA)
Directed by: Sanjay Patel
Running Time: 7 mins.

IMDb Plot: Bored with his father’s meditation, a young Indian boy daydreams of Hindu gods as superheroes.

150-ish Word Review:
Far superior to Inside Out’s super-lame Lava, Sanjay’s Super Team is apparently all anyone cares to scrape off of November’s The Good Dinosaur. What a huge move for Pixar. For Disney, even. It thrills me that tiny Americans now get to play in this little-shown, Hindu playground. The artwork also rocks. Having been in a Toys “R” Us just yesterday, I’m a little shocked there are no smooth, shiny Sanjays/Vishnus/Durgas/Hanumans to take home.

But I have to say: As the bulk of Team’s plot adds up to little more than a battle between gods, Team‘s quality gets cut in half. Basically, we’re left to watch the same mind-numbing, arc-stopping Act Three already seen in soooooo many movies. Cars 2. Big Hero 6. How to Train Your Dragon. Every Furious/Transformer movie ever made. Has Marvel’s grip dripped down to even Pixar now? I seek Pixar for originality. And Team only halfway hits that mark.

World of Tomorrow (USA)
Directed by: Don Hertzfeldt
Running Time: 17 mins.

IMDb Plot: A little girl is taken on a mind-bending tour of her distant future.

150-ish Word Review:
Though wielding minimal animation, Tomorrow’s topics are hella heady. Emily Prime is a stick figure tot, escorted by her third-generational clone through a taste of things to come. ‘Discount time travel’. ‘Clones as art’. ‘An increase in robot productivity by way of an installed sense of death’. It’s like Black Mirror for kindergarteners! (I’m guessing – I don’t actually have the balls to face Black Mirror.)

Unlike any other artist here, Hertzfeldt is a mind I want to mine. His concepts have clung to my brain. I’ve quoted him on Facebook. Good art takes you places. GREAT art takes you to other planes. It is funny. It is fear-inducing. It is great. And it’s also on Netflix!

Bear Story (Chile)
Directed by: Gabriel Osorio Vargas
Running Time: 11 mins.

IMDb Plot: An old, lonesome bear tells the story of his life through a mechanical diorama.

150-ish Word Review:
Right away, something was off. After the stylistic strengths of Super Team and Tomorrow, Bear Story looked like Toy Story – that is to say, overly-smooth, overly-shiny, and twenty years old. Then Story shoved my foot in my mouth.

See, Bear busks, toting a wind-up box that spells out his life story once you pay to peek inside. It’s a tragic tale: Ringmasters storm a high-rise to club and kidnap non-nosey, tax-paying animals. Bear is pried from his wife and cub, then upends the system to escape. And all of this is told by tin toys, soldered together, squeaking around on tracks and rods. Not only does this new design invigorate, it actually enriches Bear’s arc. That he would tinker to this nth degree, his pain still present, really stirs the soul. So it’s dissatisfying, then, when the film ends on a shrugging spectator.

It’s a weird way to weave a story. Sadly, with its center chunk hogging all the cool, Bear Story‘s bookends just can’t quite compete. Sweet as the middle may be, you start and stop with a bland taste in your mouth. Color this a soft pass.

We Can’t Live Without Cosmos (Russia)
Directed by: Konstantin Bronzit
Running Time: 16 mins.

IMDb Plot: Two cosmonauts, two friends, try to do their best in their everyday training life to make their common dream a reality. But this story is not only about the dream.

150-ish Word Review:
This one takes a bit to get going. Not that there’s nothing to like: Together, Cosmonauts 1203 and 1204 MIGHT be the cutest gay-coded cronies since Ernie and Bert. Bronzit’s vibe, too, feels like a ’90s Nicktoon that time forgot. (So you’re almost nostalgic.)  But for its first six minutes, it’s all an ambling montage. There’s no apparent point. They jump on beds together; they chess together, flick food together; they even cuddle while reading.

Except, then 1203 enters into space alone, dying instantaneously. Devastated, 1204 struggles to cope, refusing to shed his security-blanket-of-a-space-suit. It’s daring, for sure. Touching, even. But, alas, all applause is deafened by childish crowbar gags and a herd of frowny faces. It HINTS at huge emotion, then asks you to do the leg work. At almost 28, my best friend might be the platonic love of my life. Cosmos should’ve had me sobbing. But, instead, I was just spaced out.

Prologue (England)
Directed by: Richard Williams
Running Time: 6 mins.

IMDb Plot: Taking place 2,400 years in the past, Prologue depicts a brutal battle between two teams of Spartan and Athenian warriors.

150-ish Word Review:
Whoa. Hold up. Fountains of blood? Dangling genitalia? That last guy died getting a sword up the dick! Still, never mind the fact that Prologue appears to be set inside a sun-bleached sketchbook -I’d forgotten the level of class that hand drawn animation can bring. It’s as eerie as it is pretty. Uncanny valley, almost. To be scowled at by Prologue‘s savages must ring close to how it first felt facing down the gun of The Great Train Robbery‘s last bandit. There’s also a bit of Snow White’s stepmother in there.

While I applaud its art, at six minutes long, there’s no story to root for. Who’s our protagonist? Frankly, this feels like a demo. Story-wise, its saving grace might actually spring from its choice of title: Prologue. Are we now supposed to mill the life-long, far-reaching effects of war? Or am I just trying too hard.

Alright. Truth time. Who do I decree shall win the Oscar? Let me just say: I’m crap at that. I’ve got no clue what the Academy looks for. So DO NOT come to me ’cause you lost $100 in an Oscar pool betting Bear Story over We Can’t Live Without Cosmos. What do I WANT to win? Easy. World of Tomorrow. What MIGHT win? I don’t know…Prologue?

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the author

Jordan Troublefield sounds like a Bond character you forgot existed. He worships Batman, Ben Folds, and Billy Wilder – in that order. You can currently hear Jordan gabbing about film on PodBayDoor via Soundcloud.com.