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Senior Correspondent

Oscar-Nominated Animated Shorts

Oscar-Nominated Animated Shorts


“POSSESSION” (directed by Shuhei Morita; Japan;  14 minutes) My rating: A

In this visual tour-de-force — presented in a cell-animation form that often resembles classic Japanese prints — a traveler seeks shelter from a storm in an abandoned hut deep in the woods.

But thought it’s tiny on the outside, this building seems huge on the inside. The man discovers hundreds of torn and broken parasols which he painstakingly repairs. Little by little he explores this haunted environment, and has an encounter with the ghostly woman who lives there.

Clearly inspired by samurai movies (especially “Ugetsu”), Shuhei Morita’s film defies waking logic — it’s a dream (or a nightmare) adhering to its own rules.

But — good lord! — is it ever beautiful, a masterpiece of design, an opera of light and shadow, a seamless synthesis of classic Disney-style animation and Japanese anime.  I could watch it again… and again… and again.

“GET A HORSE” (directed by Lauren MacMullan; USA; 6 minutes) My rating: B

Taking her cue from Buster Keaton’s silent masterpiece “Sherlock Junior” (a dimension-bending comedy in which a movie projectionist dreams that he enters the world depicted on the screen), Disney animator Lauren MacMullan has come up with a witty – even metaphysical – idea.

Her short begins with an old (or is it?) black-and-white Mickey Mouse cartoon and then breaks down the barriers between screen and theater auditorium.

In the “old” movie, Minnie Mouse is kidnapped by perennial villain Pegleg Pete. Mickey tries to save her. But at a certain point the action spills off of the screen and into the theater in which we are sitting. Once they are in our reality, the characters are presented in full color and the rounded surfaces of sophisticated computer animation.

Audiences for Disney’s Christmas release “Frozen” saw “Get a Horse” in 3-D, which further highlighted the difference between the flat “old” movie and the depth of the action unfolding in front of the screen in the “real”  theater.

This is less an animated comedy than it is a meditation on real and unreal, 2-D and 3-D, on animation’s roots and  its current state of anything-is-possible.

By the way, Mickey’s voice is provided by the late Walt Disney (he did the vocal honors for the first couple of years of sound cartoons). Nice touch.

“FERAL” (directed by Daniel Sousa; France; 13 minutes) My rating: B

In a snowy forest, wolves run down a deer. A naked feral child approaches.

A hunter captures the child and takes him to a village where he is clothed and introduced to human society. But the transition is not an easy one.  Perhaps the same behavior that kept him safe in the wilds will work in this new world.

Presented without dialogue in a painterly style that employs only black, white and gray (the medium could be charcoal or conte crayon), “Feral” offers archetypes rather than fully-rounded characters.  Yet its story of a “natural” being caught up 

“MR. HUBLOT”  (directed by Laurent Witz and Alexandre Espigares; France; 12 minutes) My rating: B+

A steampunk fantasy rendered in astonishingly photo-realistic computer animation, “Mr. Hublot” unfolds in a busy, noisy city populated by “people” who move and act pretty much like normal folk — except that they’re made of metal and plastic.

The wordless story finds the title character observing a lost dog (a mechanical dog, natch, whose body looks suspiciously like an old toaster), rescuing the metallic pooch, and taking it to his second-story apartment. Over time the little beastie grows to elephant size, pushing Hublot out of his apartment and spurring a search for newer, more spacious digs.

The story is simple, but the visual panache and sophisticated design with which it has been presented is jaw dropping. Directors Laurent Witz and Alexandre Espigares have envisioned an entire world so detailed that you can almost imagine what’s going on just off screen.

“ROOM ON THE BROOM” (directed by Jan Lachauer and Max Lang; UK; 27 minutes) My rating: A

In this adaptation of a bestselling book for children, a good-natured witch collects a menagerie of animals (dog, frog, bird) who ride with her on her broomstick , in the process irritating her cat, who now finds  space at a premium.  It also makes for a topheavy ride.

But her new pals come in handy when a  hungry dragon begins pursuing them.

Jan Lachauer and Max Lang‘s film looks like Claymatio — except I think it’s probably computer animation cannily designed to look like stop-motion. Whatever the case, it’s a charming story populated with familiar voices: Gillian Anderson, Simon Pegg, Rob Brydon, Timothy Spall, Sally Hawkins.

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