Oscar Nominated Animated Shorts (86th Academy Awards) review

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The French “Mr. Hublot” creates an utterly real yet completely fantastical world, a palpable steampunk environment of gorgeous mechanical loveliness.
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

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

Silent movies are alive and well… in animated shorts. And one of the nominees this year for the Oscar for Best Animated Short Film is an explicit throwback to the earliest days of cinema. Ironically, the very first Mickey Mouse short, in 1928, was in fact one of the first sound cartoons, but Disney’s black-and-white, 1920s-retro “Get a Horse!” [IMDb] is as near to a silent film as shorts get these days. (If you’ve seen Frozen, you’ll remember this short from the preshow.) There’s next to no dialogue as Mickey, Minnie, and Co. enjoy a hay ride that goes awry, though there are plenty of goofy sound FX and silly music to accompany the shenanigans. The thrill of this wonderful little film is the unexpectedness of such an old-fashioned cartoon suddenly bursting out into 3D… and it’s a deployment of the technology that’s more effective than almost any other use we’ve seen thus far. (Perhaps only Avatar and Gravity are more immersive, but those are on an entirely different scale.) Kudos to director Lauren MacMullan.

“Get a Horse!” will, I suspect, win the Oscar, but I’d be delighted if “Mr. Hublot” [IMDb], from directors Laurent Witz and Alexandre Espigares, were recognized instead, for it is the best among the five nominees in creating an utterly real yet completely fantastical world. A French film free of dialogue, it uses CGI to give us a palpable steampunk environment for its title protagonist, a man set in his ways and dedicated to order who cannot resist brining into his home a lonely and abandoned robot dog, who invariably brings the expected sort of doggy chaos. There’s a gorgeous mechanical loveliness to the film, and plenty of intriguing and unsolved mystery, too. (Why does Mr. Hublot have a numeric counter in his forehead? Is he a robot as well?) Visually and emotionally, this is a beautiful film.

“Feral” [IMDb], from American filmmaker Daniel Sousa, is the most traditionally silent film among the nominees, a stark tale about a small boy rescued from his abandonment in the woods by a kindly hunter. Mostly a mood piece, its almost monochromic style uses a sere look of pencil or charcoal sketches to convey the child’s inability to fit in to his new home: he cannot — will not — be domesticated.

“Possessions” [IMDb], from Japanese filmmaker Shuhei Morita, is a sweetly poignant fable about the loneliness of discarded objects that were once useful, as a wandering traveler taking shelter at a little shrine in a woods finds himself stuck in a tormenting fantasia of broken umbrellas and other tools; with just a little bit of dialogue, mostly as the traveler talks to the sad, abandoned implements, human and tool find a happy compromise.

Finally, there’s the most traditional of the lot, the British “Room on the Broom” [IMDb], by Jan Lachauer and Max Lang, with extensive narration by Simon Pegg (The World’s End). A kindly witch (the voice of Gillian Anderson: Shadow Dancer), gathers new animal companions around her during a day of adventure, much to the consternation of her cat. It’s based on the classic children’s picture book, of course [Amazon U.S.] [Amazon Canada] [Amazon U.K.], and it’s absolutely lovely. But it doesn’t advance the medium of animation like “Get a Horse!” and “Mr. Hublot” do.

See the official site for showtimes and locations across the U.S. and Canada. The animated program in cinemas may include other shorts not nominated for the Oscar and not provided for review.

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