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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Oscar Nominated Animated Shorts (87th Academy Awards) review

Oscar Nominated Animated Shorts green light

In the deeply moving “The Bigger Picture,” Daisy Jacobs uses a fresh and unique animation style to tell a story that is full of humanity.
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

It is extraordinary, the emotion that can be captured in smudges of color. I’ll be stunned if Daisy Jacobs’s deeply moving “The Bigger Picture” [IMDb] doesn’t win this year’s Oscar for Best Animated Short. A tale of two adult brothers coping with their elderly mother’s decline, this offers a fresh and unusual combination of moving paintings on flat surfaces interacting with 3D objects (and sometimes stretching into a third dimension themselves) to create a film that is full of humanity. Grief, anger, jealousy, rage, fear, pity, and love blend in a tapestry of feeling that beautifully captures the confused emotional chaos of a family at its most trying time.

Color is gorgeously smudged in my other favorite among the animated-short nominees, the adorable and poignant “The Dam Keeper” [IMDb]. Filmmakers Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi have worked as art directors on some of the biggest and most beloved animated features ever (including Ratatouille and Toy Story 3), and they bring that talent for imbuing nonhuman creatures with recognizable emotion to their story of young Pig. It’s Pig’s job to keep an apocalyptic dust away from his pleasant little village by running the windmill at the town’s edge to blow the dust away. He doesn’t seem to mind the work, but being derided as a “dirty pig” by the other kids at school doesn’t seem very fair, and makes for a lonely life. Kondo and Tsutsumi use a breathtaking painterly style to fill Pig’s world with hope and heartbreak. I was in tears — and not only tears of joy — at this one. (“The Dam Keeper” is narrated by Lars Mikkelsen [When Animals Dream].)

The other nominees are:

• Torill Kove’s “Me and My Moulton” [IMDb], the hilarious story of a little girl in 1960s Norway and her mortification at the nonconformity of her family, told in a chic, vibrant modernist cartoon style

• Patrick Osborne’s “Feast” [IMDb], the Disney entry, a dog’s-eye view of a man’s romance and marriage that is thoroughly charming but nevertheless feels like it’s treading a path already well worn by Disney

• “A Single Life” [IMDb], by “Job, Joris & Marieke,” a quick and quirky little oddity about a woman who discovers a magical 45 vinyl single that allows her to skip around to different moments of her life; cute but slight, it has no power to linger.

The theatrical presentation of the Oscar nominees also includes four shorts additional shorts that have not been nominated: “Bus Story,” in which the adventures of a rural Canadian school bus driver play out with scraggly humor; “Footprints” [IMDb], from the wonderfully demented mind of Bill Plympton, an ironic nightmare about a man stalking a destructive creature whose presumptive horrors grow in his mind the closer he gets to his goal; and two pieces that feel like auditions to work as an animator for Disney, the hand-drawn “Duet” [IMDb], in which romance is expressed in dance and other human movement, and “Sweet Cocoon,” animated with the Pixar software, about a fat caterpillar trying to squeeze into a too-small cocoon.


See the official site for showtimes and locations across the U.S., Canada, and the U.K.


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Oscar Nominated Animated Shorts (87th Academy Awards) (2015)
US/Can release: Jan 30 2015
UK/Ire release: Feb 22 2015

MPAA: not rated
BBFC: not rated

viewed at home on a small screen

official site | IMDb
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, you might want to reconsider.

  • RogerBW

    I hope I will eventually get a chance to watch some of these…

  • Bluejay

    I saw “Feast” in front of “Big Hero 6” and found it really sweet and charming. You’re right that it breaks no new ground thematically, but it’s exquisite animation; the blissed-out expression on the puppy’s face, when she first tastes egg and bacon on top of her usual food, is excellently done.

  • k

    “Duet” was animated by Glen Keane. Do some research and you’ll see he in no way needs to “audition to work for Disney”.

  • So why did he make a short that looks like an audition?

    I don’t think you’re making the point you think you’re making.

  • Danielm80

    Glen Keane is one of the most influential animators of all time. He worked for Disney for about 40 years. This short was a project he took on after he retired, because it sounded fun and intriguing. It may look rough because he was experimenting with new technology. It’s more than fair for you to comment on that, of course. It’s your job to point out a film’s flaws. But your phrasing sounds really odd in the context of his career.

    Here’s a great story Keane told in an interview:

    It’s kind of a funny thing, the personal sense of satisfaction that you get from being invisible. When I’m around animation people, they know who I am. But, among normal people, they don’t know who the heck I am. I learned about that in a hard way – the value of being invisible. I was trying to get into Disneyland with some friends who were visiting. I was going to impress them by going up to the front of the line and getting in with my Silver Pass. I get to the front of the line and went, “Shoot, I don’t have my pass!” I figured, I’ll just talk my way in. I said, “Hey, look. I don’t have my silver pass. Here’s my Disney ID. I work at the studio in animation. Can we come in?” The guard said, “No, I can’t do that.” I said to him, “Well, you got a compute there. You know who I am. You can check to see that I have a Silver Pass.” He said, “Naw, I can’t do that.” I said to myself, “No, don’t do this” but I had to do it; I said, “Look, did you see The Little Mermaid? Did you see Beauty and the Beast? Aladdin? I did those.” He looked at me and said, “I don’t care who you are. You’re going to get back into the line like everyone else!”

    So now I’m embarrassed in front of my friends. I went to the back of the line, waited in line, bought tickets and by the time I got into the park, I was angry. My friends went on a ride and I sat down on a bench, just trying to cool off. And sure enough, here comes The Beast walking over. He sits down on the bench next to me. I thought, “Isn’t this ironic.” I looked over at him and said, “Hi Beast.”

    Then this little girl comes running over, jumps up and gives The Beast great big hug and a kiss. And I immediately remembered when I was designing him, I thought, “He’s too ugly. Nobody is going to believe Belle could love him. This movie isn’t going to work.” And here is this little girl, completely embracing and believing in this character. I have never felt so wonderfully invisible as I did at that moment. To that little girl, The Beast was real. I realized, that’s what this is all about. It’s not about me at all.

    Link: http://www.awn.com/animationworld/glen-keane-talks-duet-and-legacy-disney-animation

  • Glen Keane is one of the most influential animators of all time. He worked for Disney for about 40 years.

    I didn’t know who he was. But this explains why “Duet” was included in this collection: because of who he is, not because there’s anything special in this short.

    It may look rough because he was experimenting with new technology.

    It doesn’t look rough, but it certainly doesn’t look like any new tech was involved in making it. It looks very run-of-the-mill Disney.

  • bronxbee

    i have to agree that the Brothers short was a very unique style of animation, and though poignant, it’s too much of downer to win. i also loved the painterly style (like chalk pastels). definitely the one with the sisters was charming…. and i laughed out loud at both the catapiller one and the bus driver. (those canadians are more weird than can be seen at a glance).

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