This year’s Academy Award nominees for best animated short film favor visual flair over affective storytelling. Two are aimed squarely at children, two others are the sort that younger kids are unlikely to follow, while the last (and the best) should hold equal appeal across age groups.
It’s Mr. Hublot (12 minutes) that featured the most satisfying mix of visual and emotional appeal. I delighted in its vision of a steampunk metropolis of mechanical creatures. The titular man prefers his life, and his apartment, just so, with everything in its place. When he takes in an abandoned (quasi-robotic) dog, he’s compelled to adapt his own life to the literally growing demands of his pet.
The care of animals also figures prominently in Room on the Broom (27 minutes), about a witch with a cat who step-by-step brings along a dog, a bird, and a frog on her travels. The cat is not a fan of the newcomers, but when a dragon threatens them all, they learn the value of community and of working together. The animation is beautifully rendered, the characters depicted with wondrous texture.
Meanwhile it’s inanimate objects rather than animals that get anthropomorphized in the subtitled Japanese film Possessions (15 minutes). A title card at the outset informs us of a Japanese legend that says that after 100 years objects and tools acquire souls and play tricks on people. We watch as a traveler takes refuge from a storm in a shed full of discarded junk that soon comes to life. Broken umbrellas and torn fabrics torment him, but their efforts are undone by the man’s inclination to recognize and restore the value of these forgotten items. The hand-drawn animation is exquisite.
Feral (13 minutes) is the most abstract and strikingly cinematic in its visual storytelling. Without dialogue, it relays the tale of a wild boy who believes himself a wolf. A man finds him in the woods and takes him to the city to civilize him but discovers that the boy’s nature cannot be escaped.
Finally, I found Disney’s entry in this year’s contest — Get a Horse! (6 minutes) — a relatively inert piece of business. The world of a 1930s black-and-white style Mickey Mouse cartoon and a computer-animated version interact when the characters are thrown from a movie screen and into a colorful world of greater dimension. But there’s not much to it. It’s an interesting exercise for animators looking to challenge themselves, rather than a fully fleshed stab at an amusing or touching clip. Plus, computer-animated Mickey and friends look kind of creepy.