Animated shorts tend to be nearly silent films. They’ve got music and sound FX, sure, but often no dialogue: something about this particular mode of cinematic storytelling seems to inspire filmmakers to eschew it. Which makes my pick as this year’s best among the Oscar-nominated animated shorts an anomaly: it’s the only one of this year’s film nominees to feature dialogue. Extensively. Unlike its fellow nominees, the wonderfully weird and hilariously morbid “World of Tomorrow” [IMDb | official site], from American filmmaker Don Hertzfeldt, would not work at all were its dialogue removed. Its animation style is deliciously ticklish, and is inherent to its appeal, but it is all about what its two protagonists say to each other. I’m just gonna quote myself, from back when I wrote about it after it was named Best Short at last year’s Sundance Film Festival:
When a very little girl, Emily (the voice of Winona Mae), gets a phone call from one of her own future clones (the voice of Julia Pott), who has all of Emily’s memories (including the ones she hasn’t experienced yet, of course), she gets a peek not only at her own far-future life but the fate of humanity itself. She’s far too young to understand what she’s witnessing, but we aren’t. When I say this wise and horrifying film will make you feel all the feels, I mean a universe of them: this is funny cute disturbing sinister sad melancholy hopeful all at the same time, plus some emotions that haven’t been invented yet but which future Emily clone hints at… for her world is the culmination of more science-fiction ideas crammed into this film’s 17 minutes than you’ll find in a decade’s worth of summer blockbusters. And not all of those ideas are pleasant. The animation is conversely — perhaps perversely — like simple line drawings that a child might make, with layers of things psychedelic and Kubrickian oozing in later (some Strauss helps with the sense that this is a sidebar to 2001: A Space Odyssey). Really one of the most mindblowing short films I’ve ever seen.
Looking back over the year in film, “World of Tomorrow” feels like an inside-out Inside Out. The ambition here is astonishing. That is succeeds as well as is does is almost beyond imagining.
The inevitable Pixar entry this year is “Sanjay’s Super Team” [IMDb | official site], and in a year without “World of Tomorrow,” it’d be a shoo-in for the Oscar. The first film from Pixar animator Sanjay Patel, this is a wonderful evocation of that moment in childhood when you suddenly realize that the things that are important to your parents might be important to you as well. As I wrote when I saw the short accompanying The Good Dinosaur:
“Sanjay’s Super Team” is a lovely bit of dreamery in which a little boy envisions the Hindu gods his father is praying to as superheroes. It’s beautiful, funny, exciting, and unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. It sadly highlights how stagnant mainstream Hollywood ideas of fantasy have become.
Like most Pixar films, it is very moving.
The other nominees are:
• “We Can’t Live Without Cosmos” [IMDb], from Russian animator Konstantin Bronzit. A hand-drawn bit of existential tomfoolery about best-buddy astronauts in training, this is funny and sad and poignant about being a space geek.
• “Bear Story” [IMDb | official site], from Chilean filmmaker Gabriel Osorio Vargas. A story within a story, it introduces us to a lonely ursine toymaker and his wind-up mechanical theatre, which itself tells the tale of a bear who lives in a world where a fascist police state forces animal citizens into becoming performing circus animals. (Yes, this one goes from sweet and poignant to dark and ominous very quickly.) Is it the toymaker’s story, or not? The animated style, which can only be described as CGI gearpunk, underscores themes of coercion, alienation, and the hope of a better life.
• “Prologue” [IMDb], from Canadian filmmaker Richard Williams. Hand-drawn sketches of nature — butterflies, flowers — come to life among ancient warriors engaging in bloody battle. Are they are one with nature, by acting out the basest of human urges, to kill or be killed, or are they defying nature?